The Uniformed Services Justice & Advocacy Group (USJAG) applauds the actions of North Carolina Judge Olivera. This past week Judge Olivera, who presides over the Veteran’s Treatment Court in Fayetteville, North Carolina. A veteran of Desert Storm himself, Judge Olivera demonstrated a rare level of compassion and understanding for fellow veteran, Green Beret Sgt. Serna. Serna served three harrowing combat tours in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and had experienced many of the hallmark symptoms of combat-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), among them the tendency to self-medicate with alcohol.
He was charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), arrested and subsequently placed in Judge Olivera’s Veteran’s Treatment Court. During the course of his participation he came up positive on a urinalysis test and later came clean, admitting to having lied about his use. Instead of doing what many members of the Bench would do in similar circumstances, Judge Olivera chose to not only rule as a judge, but also as a veteran. He sentenced Sgt. Serna to a night in jail for the infraction and then he did something you just don’t see everyday—he spent the night in jail with Serna out of fear for his well-being.
According to the Department of Justice there are nearly 200,000 Veterans in Federal and State prison in 2015. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands more are arrested each year in the United States. The Veterans Court movement arose out of a recognition that when the driving factor behind an arrest is deployment related mental or physical health conditions such as PTSD then it is simply wiser to divert and treat rather than incarcerate and harshly punish.
Sgt. Serna, we wish you our best and recognize what you have given, brother. Judge Olivera, if only we had more like you our nation would be a better place indeed.
This story has been covered widely, as we hoped it might.