operation mend vet court

By Debbie Gregory.

Manny Welch is living proof that anything is possible. The first graduate of the first Veterans Drug Treatment Court, Welch is a Vietnam-era Veteran who has battled alcohol and drug addiction. In the process, he lost everything he valued: his children, his family, jobs, and self-respect.

Welch’s road to recovery began after his introduction to the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court, the first such court, begun by Judge Robert Russell in January 2008. A veterans’ court is a “special court” which is charged with trying cases of minor offenses which involve veterans of militaries, particularly those diagnosed with service-related illnesses. Judge Russell’s veterans’ court has been used as a model for establishments of other veterans’ courts throughout the country.

“My addiction was full blown,” said Welch. While he was sitting in a soup kitchen, a man came in and asked, “Are there any Veterans here who want to turn their life around and, if so, you are welcome to get on this van and I will take you to the Buffalo VA.”

Welch said that’s where the transformation began, all because of one simple statement. Judge Russell said to Welch, “Thank you for your service.” Welch, a bit taken aback said, “…they all stood up…and they all started clapping…and, I’m looking around and I’m (thinking), ‘What kind of court is this?’”

Welch considers graduating from the Buffalo Veterans Drug Court his greatest achievement, and is proud to be its first graduate of the first Veterans Court.  From there, he worked his way through VA treatment programs, right into a steady job at the Buffalo VA Medical Center.

Along the way, he obtained a degree from Erie Community College, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Buffalo and has risen to the position of peer support specialist.  It’s a job he says he was always meant to have.

There must have been many day when Welch couldn’t envision a future. But with a hand up, and a willingness to change, anything is possible.

Operation Mend: First Veterans treatment court graduate is proof anything is possible. By Debbie Gregory