PORTAGE | At 63, Paul Hake said he is a new man.
And, he said, he credits a team of people with the Porter County Veterans Treatment Court for turning his life around.
"It has changed my life completely," said Hake, 63, of Porter, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam. "My problem was alcohol. It is gone now and I got my life back."
Hake was one of six military veterans who graduated from the program Friday during ceremonies in Porter Superior Court Judge Julia Jent's courtroom.
She initiated the program and with the help of a team made up of case managers, mental health professionals, prosecutors and public defenders, work to help veterans who have had a run-in with the law seek resolutions to their bigger problems and change their lives.
"You served this country and returned with unresolved issues. We watched you struggle, saw your distrust in us, in this court and your case manager. We forced you to face issues. We called you out on bad choices.
"Then we saw you grow," Jent told the six men, their mentors and the family that gathered in the room. This was their third graduating class since initiating the program slightly more than two years ago.
Zoltan Szabo, who turns 52 today, served in the U.S. Army from 1980 to 1984, including a tour in Grenada. He joined the National Guard in 2004 and has two tours in Iraq.
It was his second drunk driving arrest that brought the Kouts man to veterans court 16 months ago.
He'd heard of the court and heard of its success.
But, he said, it wasn't until be became a part of it that he appreciated it and began to appreciate himself.
"The more I got involved, the more I embraced it. It was a wake up call. You do come to a realization that you are a better person," he said, adding the court made him realize that he was a better person than he — and his actions — had allowed him to be.
"I believe in myself and others believe in me. It is validating," he said.