FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) - A new program that helps veterans get out of the court system with a cleared record is becoming popular around the country, and is now an option for some veterans in Northwest Arkansas.
Jason Lentz, a Navy veteran, is part of Washington County’s Veterans Treatment Court.
“It’s changed my life,” Lentz said. “I`ve been to prison five times.”
Lentz spent time behind bars on drug charges.
“My charge was possession of methamphetamine,” Lentz said. “I received felony charges.”
Lentz said he resorted to drugs after falling on hard times.
“[I had] a divorce, and I lost my father all in the same month,” he explained. “Once I became addicted to it, there wasn't really much stopping me after that point. It was just a life of crime.”
Facing six years in prison, Lentz said he went before Washington County Circuit Court Judge Cristi Beaumont, who runs the county`s Veterans Treatment Court.
“The majority of [veterans] have not gotten help for the traumas they've had to see and endure,” Beaumont said. “Because of that, many of them will turn to substance abuse."
The program is an option for those who've committed non-violent offenses.
“Everyone deserves a second chance, as long as it is not involving violent crimes,” Beaumont said. ”It's our little part that we can do, for all they've done for us.”
Veterans have to spend a minimum of one year in the program. During that time, they are given counseling, and are routinely drug tested.
“By getting them in the program, this allows them to get the treatment that they need, and get them acclimated back into society,” Beaumont said.
Some veterans who successfully complete all the court's requirements, get their record expunged and their charges dismissed.
Lentz said he's a new man today because of the treatment program, and tells us he's grateful for the help he's gotten from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Judge Beaumont.
“It's nice to be wanted as a neighbor, wanted as a son. To not be a burden to my mother, and to my family and friends,” Lentz said. “It has given me my confidence back. I have a life. I have a home. I have transportation. I have a future.”
Benton County has a similar treatment court for veterans. Right now, there are 25 veterans between the two county programs, and almost 20 veterans have graduated from treatment so far.