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Bozeman’s veterans treatment court graduated three Marines Tuesday with a ceremony at the Law and Justice Center and advice from someone who once walked in their shoes.

Christian Wade, a retired Marine Corps gunner and Bozeman resident, spoke at the ceremony and prepared the audience for his speech.

“I’m going to be honest — Marine Corps honest,” Wade said.

Wade described his career in the military that spanned more than 30 years as a job he loved, but one that also led to pain. He joined the military when he was 17 and served primarily as a scout sniper and a sniper instructor. He was deployed 13 times, and six times to active combat.

Wade said he’s had his fair share of troubles, and a few run-ins with law enforcement when he was younger, like the graduates of the Veteran Eligible Treatment Services, or V.E.T.S. Court. But a commanding officer gave him a second chance, and he sought treatment for his physical and psychological wounds from war.

“I decided to live because that’s what Marines do,” Wade said.

Wade said he found peace through programs like what the treatment court provides.

V.E.T.S. Court provides services and treatments post-conviction to veterans who commit crimes and have an identifiable substance abuse or mental health need.

Tuesday’s graduation ceremony came one day after Veterans Day and two days after the birthday of the Marine Corps.

The V.E.T.S. Court was first instated within Bozeman Municipal Court in early 2018 with grant money from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

It’s administered by a team comprised of a municipal court judge, a court coordinator, a deputy city attorney and defense counsel, a Veteran Justice Outreach representative, mental health professionals, case managers and mentors who are also veterans.

Individualized treatment plans that can include outpatient physical and mental health care, supported housing and group therapy are carried out between 12 months and two years, depending on what a person needs.

Each participant meets regularly with the court, must undergo weekly drug testing and completes a community service project.

Municipal Court Judge Colleen Herrington said during Tuesday’s ceremony that all three of the graduates spent close to two years in the V.E.T.S. Court. She said the two most important things they could do are show up and be honest.

Tuesday’s graduates did that, Herrington said, and she asked each to consider becoming mentors for future program participants.

“Looking at all of the time that they’ve put into this has been spectacular. They have worked hard to make sure that they are going to graduate, and hopefully become part of a good group of society that can help others go through the same process,” Herrington said during the ceremony.

Wade ended his speech on a similar note. He said there are more veterans going through the same struggles than what one might think, and that they should lean on each other.

“When you find yourself alone with your thoughts, especially if they are dark, come find one of us. We are likely the only people with whom you can truly confide,” Wade said.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.

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