The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:
It was a heartwarming story about one judge making an extraordinary commitment to one veteran. It caught the nation’s attention. And maybe it will even save some lives.
The story was about Fayetteville District Court Judge Lou Olivera and a retired Green Beret sergeant who appeared in the veterans court where Olivera presides.
The veteran, Joe Serna, had flunked a urinalysis and would have to spend a night in jail. Olivera drove him to the lockup and then surprised Serna by staying in the cell with him. They spent the night talking about their military experiences – Serna served in Afghanistan, Olivera in the Gulf War. Serna lost a lot of friends in the war, and then he lost his career to injuries inflicted by a suicide bomber.
Olivera said he decided to spend the night so he could prevent the experience from worsening Serna’s already-severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He probably succeeded.
But he scored a bigger victory: The Washington Post caught wind of the story and published it. On the Post’s website, it was the most popular story all weekend. The rest of the world was reading about the gift that one judge gave one veteran.
Olivera said Saturday that the story shouldn’t be about him, that it should be about veterans, PTSD and what the legal system can do to help. Fair enough. But he’s stuck, at least for a while, with a really good kind of fame, the kind that comes from doing something beyond what anyone could imagine a judge doing.
But when the acclaim fades, we hope Olivera is right. We hope the nation remembers the good that can be done in a veterans court, where judge and staff have military experience, where they understand the almost unspeakable horrors that these men and women have faced in their volunteer service to our country, and where they know what those horrors can do to a good human being.
We need more veterans courts, across the nation, that can step in and help our former soldiers when their nightmares drive them into trouble. And we need more judges who know the difference between real criminal behavior and the things that good men and women do when they are still fighting the demons of war.
We also hope veterans who live with the crushing burden of PTSD will see in Serna’s story that solace and healing are possible. It begins with finding help and talking about their experiences.
We thank two of our veterans for helping light that pathway.
Tribune Content Agency