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Court program helps vet get off drugs, change life

Jul. 31, 2013 - 11:46AM   |  
Joshua Rogers, an Army and Navy veteran who served four combat tours, stands in Delaware Circuit Court 4 on Monday after being the first to graduate from the Delaware County Veterans Court System.
Joshua Rogers, an Army and Navy veteran who served four combat tours, stands in Delaware Circuit Court 4 on Monday after being the first to graduate from the Delaware County Veterans Court System. (Jordan Kartholl / The Star Press)
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MUNCIE, IND. — Joshua Rogers learned his cellphone was his worst enemy as he began the long road to recovery from his chronic problems associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rogers — a veteran of both the Army and Navy — said there were certain go-to contacts in his phone that would encourage drug and alcohol use to help him numb his pain.

So, one by one, Rogers went through his phone and deleted the contacts he’d later call his “bad influences.” When he was done, 72 people were cut out of his life.

Over the next few months, however, Rogers was able to add 42 new contacts to his phone — names of family members, new friends and other veterans who had his best interests at heart.

On Monday, in another huge step forward in his recovery, Rogers graduated from the Delaware County Veterans Court, a system aimed at directing eligible military veterans in trouble with the law to services, including treatment for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, provided by the Veterans Affairs Department.

In doing so, Rogers became Delaware County’s first Veterans Court graduate, a program that began locally last year as another arm of the problem-solving court system under Judge John Feick in Delaware Circuit Court 4.

“It meant a lot,” Rogers told The Star Press, referring to the brief ceremony Monday in Circuit Court 4, in which he received a certificate and a special coin for his accomplishments. “I’m beside myself.”

Rogers served five combat tours in the Army’s Airborne Infantry and was also an electronic technician with the Navy before returning home for good in 2006. Like many other combat veterans before him, Rogers said he was never able to readjust to a “normal” life.

“I wasn’t even showing signs of PTSD until 2008,” he said. “But it can creep up on you, and it can haunt you.”

Rogers turned to alcohol and drugs as a means to temporarily get rid of his problems. In doing so, he began hurting those closest to him.

“We’re five years apart, and we hadn’t been very close because of his drug use and alcoholism,” Kellie Granger, Rogers’ sister, recalled Monday.

The self-medication took its toll on Rogers, both mentally and legally. From 2006 to 2009, local court records indicate he was convicted of driving while intoxicated at least three times.

Consequently, Rogers’ mental state deteriorated — so much so that by January, he was ready to end his own life.

“I was pretty much down at my lowest point in life,” Rogers said. “I was in a pretty dark place.”

On Jan. 20, Rogers made the decision to check into the VA in Marion for life-saving treatment. From there, he was introduced to Eric Dungan, the Veterans Justice outreach coordinator for Northern Indiana, who helped Rogers get into Delaware County’s up-and-coming Veterans Court treatment program.

Just seven months later, Rogers — who had also been receiving prior treatment in Delaware County’s Drug Court program — met the requirements left to graduate from the Veterans Court system.

“He is a good guy who served his country, and to kind of get that weight lifted off his shoulders was really big,” Dungan said of Rogers. “I was real happy with him, and I think he’s real happy with himself.”

Dungan said Rogers told him he hadn’t slept the night before Monday’s ceremony. For once, however, a lack of sleep was a good thing for this veteran.

“A lot of guys with PTSD, they can’t sleep and they struggle with that,” Dungan said. “So it’s nice to hear he wasn’t sleeping for a good reason as opposed to having nightmares.”

Perhaps most proud of Rogers on Monday, however, was Granger, who said her relationship with her brother had been rebuilt as a result of his participation in Veterans Court.

Granger also brought her 2-year-old son, Kolton, to Monday’s ceremony to cheer on his uncle.

“I’ve just been there for him through the whole thing, and I take him to his doctor’s appointments, his court appointments,” Granger said. “It’s brought us closer because he’s got the proper diagnosis he needs and he’s on the correct medications. He’s just doing so well.”

Rogers said he’d like to thank those responsible for helping him along his journey, most notably those who coordinate Delaware County’s Veterans Court system, such as Feick, Dungan, Delaware County Prosecutor Jeffrey Arnold, Deputy Prosecutor Joe Orick and others.

“They gave me a chance,” he said. “They gave me a chance to live.”

And as Rogers left the courtroom Monday, he made sure to address those currently receiving treatment within the Veterans Court system.

“Stick with the program,” Rogers told the group. “It works.”

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