The Compassionate Judge
By Mad Medic
One of the hardest parts of this generation of Veterans is seeing so many of us fall by the wayside. I have watched friends, people I admire, and honest to God freaking heroes fall into deep depression, drugs, and drinking. I’ve seen people I thought were rock solid spiral out of control and end in a bad way.
What’s worse is the frustration that I and many of my fellow veterans feel like they have failed, and keep failing their battle buddies. How many buddies could we have saved with a simple phone call, or some simple gesture? So often we walk away, tears in our eyes with the should haves, the would haves, and the could haves.
It’s not that we don’t care. Anyone who reads the Rhino Den, or Havoc Journal will know there’s so much regret, and anger, and sorrow. How can we do better? What simple lifeline can we throw, what can we do when a brother or sister is truly in need? Sometimes all it takes is a simple gesture, one act that can turn the tide. That’s why I think the actions of this judge are so exemplary.
Joe Serna, a 41 year old former Special Forces soldier with four tours in Afghanistan, has had a rough time. He’s been blown up three times, had a suicide bomber nearly kill him, in addition to all the hair stuff SF troopers often get in Douchebagistan. As if that was not enough, on his last tour the vehicle he was driving in rolled over and sank into a river. Sgt James Treber released Serna’s seatbelt, and armor and pulled him toward an air pocket. Knowing there wasn’t enough room for the two of them, Sgt Treber went to look for another air pocket, but, unfortunately Sgt Treber died.
Since Serna got out, he’s had a pretty rough time. A number of traffic violations and a DUI as well as a pattern of heavy drinking show the man desperately needs help. He was sent to the special Veteran Court, and they allowed him to avoid jail time, provided that he took regular piss tests to confirm sobriety, and returned to the court every two weeks. 24 times he appeared before the court. His most recent court appearance, however, Joe admitted he’d lied about his most recent UA.
At this point there are many things a Judge could do. The law requires some kind of punishment, but what is painfully clear is that this man needed treatment not punishment. The Judge of the Veteran Court for Cumberland County, Judge Lou Olivera, himself a Veteran, ordered Serna to spend the night in jail.
One night in jail, is not the worst that could have happened, the Judge had every right to throw the book at Serna, who would probably not fare well in jail. Instead the Judge drove with the former Special Forces soldier, who was shaking the whole way, to the nearest jail. As Serna sat in the one person cell, Judge Olivera sat down on the bunk next to him.
Judge Olivera felt that the night in a cell might trigger Serna’s PTSD, so he sat down next to him, and spent the night. They traded stories and talked all night, just two old soldiers relating to one another. Serna left the cell in the morning he was completely different than when he entered. Olivera has rightly been recognized for his gesture, even though he didn’t do it for the recognition.
I don’t know what the future has in store for Joe Serna, but I hope that he gets the help he deserves. I want to see Veterans not fall into the traps of self medication. I hope that other Veterans that might need help like Serna get compassion like that that Judge Olivera showed.
When we were deployed, we were our brother’s/sister’s keeper. Our battle buddies were our friends. The people that marked time in oppressive shit holes. We burned shit together, returned fire, laughed at stupid shit together, and cried together when one of our number didn’t survive the inevitable casualties we took. When the war ended and we all came home, there were many scars still there. Our battle buddies are still there, and they’ll still have your back if you need them.
I can only hope that when others of our brethren truly need help, one of our number would be there to be able to intercede when a Veteran is on that path to self-destruction. I hope that should I or any other Veteran find ourselves on that dark path someone like Judge Olivera could be there to sit beside us. Remind us that we are not alone, that there is hope.