Veterans Court graduates its 6th class, giving those who served a second chance

Melissa Fitzgerald

Melissa Fitzgerald, National Director of Justice for Vets speaks to graduates. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

There was a graduation in Philadelphia Monday that did not come from an institution of higher learning. It came from within the criminal-justice system.

This graduation had an all-military honor roll.


The sixth Veterans Court graduation featured more than two-dozen who served their country but then ran afoul of the legal system.

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The court’s combination of tough love and treatment typically ends with the close of probation or even the wiping-clean of a veteran’s criminal record.

 Harry Montgomery was one of this session’s graduates.

 “I’m glad there is a veterans court. I got a lot out of it and I plan on mentoring and going back and trying to help out. I learned a lot.”

Melissa Fitzgerald is senior director of Justice for Vets, a group that pushes for courts around the country to adopt programs similar to the one in Philadelphia.

She gave advice to the graduates about the importance of a second chance.

“The past barriers are just that, the past. You have achieved something extraordinary, by completing this rigorous program and I believe if you can do this, you can do anything.”

 The court’s recidivism rate is only 10 percent, but Judge Pat Dugan, who runs the court, told the graduates he didn’t want to see any of them before him again.

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