Graduation day brings second chance for veterans

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- A Douglas County district judge has wiped clean the felony records of eight veterans. It’s part of a treatment program giving second chances to those who fought for our country.

One-by-one, the veterans came forward inside legislative chambers. Douglas County District Court Judge James Gleason offered a salute saying, “Gentlemen, congratulations."

We've followed the Veterans’ Treatment Court for more than a year. For 16-months each of the graduates completed milestones to reach a point where their felony record would be wiped clean.

We first met Marine veteran Ron Holesko in 2017 and caught up with him Thursday.

"This has been a roller-coaster of a ride,” he said, “but overall a great life-changing experience that's pushing me into a whole different dimension of what life can be and what life is going to be."

Some of the previous four graduates - the first class through - offered support Thursday. They know the struggle doesn't end.

Graduate Justin Erickson said, "Relapse is real and the second you think about it, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or something else, whenever you think of it, you've already relapsed and you've got to start over from square one."

One person was notably absent. Judge Mark Ashford, who started the program. He died suddenly last August. His nephew addressed the graduates.

Attorney John Ashford said, "This was his life's passion. He'd tell you this is a day of celebration. This is a day to forgive yourself."

Mark Ashford's wife Deb fought back emotions. She knew what this second chance for vets program meant to him.

Erickson said, "It gives me goosebumps every time I think about it because he took care of us really well.”

Perhaps graduate Mark Overgaard summed it up best: “All the people who have given me support - it's time to move and do better things."

After graduation there are close to 30 veterans who are at different stages of treatment court in Douglas County. Each has a mentor and others to lean on when times get tough.