Two veterans take their life back in Cascade County Veterans Court graduation

Participating in the Cascade County Veterans Court program is a step in transforming lives of veterans, said Judge Greg Pinski.

On Tuesday, Pinski graduated two veterans from the program that began in 2013.

“Changing your life isn’t easy,” Pinski said. “If you truly want to transform, you come into this program.”

Jeff Osborne and Marvin Harris completed the 12- to 18-month long program and Pinski expunged both of their records. The program has now graduated 28 veterans.

Both veterans thanked the court for believing in them and helping them get back on track.”

Vets create nonprofit to support vet court; always need more mentors

“I was thinking of myself as a degenerate,” Osborne said and thanked the vet court program for seeing something more in him. “I wouldn’t have made it without the help of every single one of you in here.”

Pinski said that Osborne thought he was going to jail, but instead he came into the vet court program. He was never late and never missed an appointment, Pinski said.

Vet court includes a team of professionals who work with veterans on substance-abuse issues, mental health, physical disability, anger management, finances and other issues. Pinski has said that the holistic approach helps veterans work through issues that may be related to their military service and prevent them from ending up homeless or in jail.

Harris was introduced by his daughter, who he has reconnected with after 12 years estranged.

Harris said he struggled with post-traumatic stress, depression, mania and addiction stemming from his time as a combat medic in Vietnam. He arrived in Vietnam just 10 days before the Tet Offensive began in 1968. The campaign lasted for months and resulted in thousands of casualties and wounded troops.

After returning from Vietnam, Harris worked on a farm with his father for a few months, went to college and stared a business, often working 16-18 hours a day to cover up his problems.

When he retired, his post-traumatic stress symptoms spiraled out of control and he was in and out of treatment until he was declared treatment resistant. Harris was sent to a facility out-of-state where he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and a doctor there connected him with resources through the Department of Veterans Affairs, including those in Great Falls.

At one point, Harris was off his medication and in a manic state when he was in a serious accident at the intersection of 10th Avenue South and 9th Street. He left the scene and was walking along 10th when he passed an Enterprise car rental office. Harris said he went inside and no one was at the desk or answered when he called out. He saw a row of keys and the first one he saw was for a Toyota. When he walked out to the car lot, the key worked on a blue Toyota, so he took it and drove it home.

Police officers arrived shortly after and took Harris to jail.

“That was an eye opener,” Harris said. “It was the first time I was about to be held accountable for my behavior.”

Harris was connected with Pinski and vet court, as well as other resources in Great Falls.

On Tuesday, he sat with his daughter and said, “I chose to take my life back.”