SPECIAL REPORT: An inside look at the struggles and triumphs of Veterans Treatment Court

SPECIAL REPORT: An inside look at the struggles and triumphs of Veterans Treatment Court

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Terri Schuyler served in the Navy from 1999 until 2003. She landed her dream job working as a jet engine mechanic aboard an aircraft carrier. Schuyler enlisted in the Navy to find herself and escape her life at home.

"I wanted to be an individual, I wasn't that in high school," said Schuyler. "I wanted to go and see the world."

Marialisa Edwards joined the Air Force in 1988. She was a personnel specialist who lived all over the world for years. She spent 22 years in the Air Force, before retiring in 2010.

"I learned my strengths and weaknesses, I learned how to be a team member," said Edwards. "You can overcome any challenge."

After leaving the Navy, Schuyler, a mother of four girls, fell on troubling times.

"I was diagnosed with PTSD and major depressive disorder, I did not get the help I needed," said Schuyler. "I started self-medicating and using street drugs to numb away my depression - nothing helped it."

Schuyler's already precarious situation only spiraled downward.

"About 3 years ago, I got thrown in jail for narcotics, I got out and didn't make my court case," said Schuyler. "I got thrown back in jail and stayed there for almost 4 months."

The freedoms Schuyler fought for at sea, were gradually stripped from her here at home.

"I was at the lowest part of my life then," said Schuyler. "I didn't have my kids, I didn't have my family and I didn't have my freedom."

Schuyler said it was at this time she got a much-needed push in the right direction from 14th Judicial Court Judge David Ritchie, who helps oversee the Veterans Treatment Court program.

"He said I should go for the Veterans Court program," said Schuyler. "I said, 'that's what I want to do; I want to do what I can to better myself.'"

Meanwhile, Edwards had gotten involved with the Veterans Treatment Court program for a completely different reason.

"I had so many people help me along the way and I felt like it was important, you get such a joy out of giving," said Edwards.

Edwards was assigned to Schuyler to serve as a mentor during her rigorous two years in Veterans Court - what those in the program call a "battle buddy."

"When you know someone's gone through the same things you have, it creates that connection," said Edwards. "That connection - it doesn't end."

Edwards and Schuyler would speak weekly about anything and everything going on in their respective lives. More importantly, Edwards served as an anchor in Schuyler's life, helping keep her grounded during dark days in Veterans Court.

"If I was ever starting to doubt myself, she was another person that brought me back up," said Schuyler. "[She] made me feel better about myself."

Over time, the two realized their similarities stretched beyond the military.

"She's an artist, too, and I'm an artist," said Schuyler. "That was our thing to talk about when we got together, we talked a lot about art."

Schuyler's positive transformation throughout their time in the program together became apparent to Edwards.

"I have never been this person," said Schuyler. "I've never had the ability to stand-up for myself and say what I want, this program has done that for me, Marialisa has done that for me."

Recently, Schuyler graduated from the Veterans Court Program, as Edwards proudly and emotionally watched from a distance.

"It's a hard program to do, but I needed it," said Schuyler. "It was the kick in the butt I needed to stay straight."

Schuyler wants to focus on her family, while also pursuing a possible career in art.

"I'm not saying what I think I'm going to do - art is what I am going to get back into," said Schuyler. "I am going to do it."

Edwards plans to stay in close contact with Schuyler. She plans to continue mentoring troubled veterans.

"I want people to understand that these veterans have been through a lot," said Edwards. "They got off on the wrong path, but everyone is redeemable."

Edwards hopes her journey alongside Schuyler will motivate other veterans in the community to get involved with the program.

For more information on Veterans Treatment Court, click here.

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