In a standing-room only ceremony Thursday at the Allegheny County Courthouse, eight military veterans were recognized for having completed the regimented Veterans Court.
In its third year, the program supervised by Judge John A. Zottola is designed to offer a complement of services to veterans facing misdemeanor criminal charges, including mental health counseling, drug and alcohol treatment and assistance in finding work and housing. If completed successfully, the veterans can have their records expunged or avoid jail time.
As part of the 90-minute ceremony, former Steelers running back and Vietnam veteran Rocky Bleier spoke about courage and making good choices.
He recalled being in an Army field hospital in Tokyo after he'd been injured in combat and receiving a postcard from Steelers owner Art Rooney.
It said, " 'The team's not doing well. We need you.' "
The note made him feel needed and gave him inspiration.
He told the veterans before him that they have two choices in life: Do less or do more.
"Do more with what you have," Mr. Bleier said. "Do more with where you are. Become a model. Opportunity exists in Veterans Court."
Also speaking Thursday was Juliehera Destefano, an independent filmmaker who next year will release a feature-length documentary called "Journal to Normal: Women of War Come Home," for which she spent three months embedded with Task Force Medical-East in Afghanistan.
"I was in awe of the strength and resiliency they radiated," she said.
Ms. Destefano, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, spoke about understanding the adversity veterans returning from war might face.
"Military people are people of action," she said. "They're accustomed to problem-solving.
"You have faced adversity, and you have triumphed."
Mr. Bleier credited the program for reassuring the veterans that there are others out there like them.
"We didn't leave you behind," he said. "It's your choice to move forward today."
'Do more with what you have. Do more with where you are. Become a model. Opportunity exists in Veterans Court.'
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620.