Some days I feel like I need to do more. I lay in bed at night and I’m just not tired enough. I ask myself “Did I do all I could today?” Then in my head I answer my own question “Tomorrow we fight again.”
This wasn’t always the case with me. After returning home from Iraq there was a long period of time where emotions and substances took over my will to fight. That’s not an easy thing for a United States Marine to admit.
After returning to Philadelphia from Iraq in 2003, it only took me four days to see the inside of a jail cell. I was arrested for aggravated assault. My drinking (and eventually drugging) had given me all of what I thought I needed to transition back into society, I was wrong. It was exactly what I didn’t need. I put a band aid on my emotions by using substances to get through each day. Those substances destroyed my life. I had seven arrests and spent a year of my life in prison. I lost my family and what hurt the most was not being with my daughter for the first four years of her young life. Something had to change, if I was going survive.
After my final arrest, I was put into the Philadelphia Veterans Court. There is no question it saved my life. For the first time since returning home, I looked to my left and right and I was surrounded by what I was missing the most in my life: the feeling of having a mission with my brothers.
In the Philadelphia Veterans Court, I found other Veterans who were all working on the same mission, the mission of recovery. Not every Veteran struggles upon returning from the places we have been, but there are quite a few who need some help. Help is what we get in Veterans Treatment Courts. There are several services inside the court room that help us get back on our feet, whether it’s VA, the Department of Behavior Health, the Vet Center or a Veterans service organization like the VFW. They all provide on-the-spot service to us, and it makes a world of difference to a Veteran who is struggling.
My life began to change. The hopelessness turned into a sense of pride that all of us in the court were leaning on each other to get through each day. After graduation from the Philadelphia Veterans Court, I decided to stick around and continue to be a volunteer for the new Veterans that come into court each week. Every day, I am lucky enough to once again be on a mission. Every day, I truly give it my all to the Veterans that find themselves in our court. My mission of recovery isn’t just about me, it’s about the younger version of me who is about to see the inside of a jail cell for the first time, just like I did.
What Veterans courts do is make sure the Veterans don’t see the inside of those jail cells more than once.
Make no mistake about it, Veterans Treatment Courts are not a slap on the wrist for Veterans. Judge Patrick Dugan, who is the judge in our court in Philadelphia, always says to the new Veteran who is in front of him in court “I need you back to being the person you were when you raised your right hand and swore to defend this country and today we start that mission”.
The Veterans who come through these courts earn a new way of living. Anybody who questions that should attend a Veterans Court graduation and see the gratitude from not only the Veteran, but the mothers, fathers, and countless family members who can sleep better at night knowing their Veteran is healthy again both mentally and physically.
I see it every day when I walk through my front door after a long day of helping my brothers and sisters on their recovery mission, when my daughter who walks over to me and hugs me because she knows her daddy is back and doing well. Moments like that hug from her are only possible because of the help I got in Philadelphia Veterans Court.
I live my life one day at a time now. I was at an event at the White House a few months ago and I heard President Obama quote Mahatma Gandhi by saying “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.
Today and every day I will do my best to get lost.
Timothy Wynn is the Philadelphia Veterans Court mentor coordinator and a proud graduate of the court where he now serves others.