Graduate of Veterans Court Hopes to Pay it Forward
“I ran for so long that it became second nature to me to look over my shoulder, and I got sick of it,” the veteran said Sunday.
Things changed for Chase almost two years ago when he decided to commit to Big Island Veterans Treatment Court. With 17 months sober, Chase completed the program in 13 months and was the sole graduate from Veterans Court on Nov. 6 at the Keahuolu Courthouse in Kona.
“I truly believe that Veterans Court gave me a chance,” he said. “They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
“It was a learning experience,” Chase said. “It was the first time that I never felt I was alone. I felt proud to be in (the Navy).”
Chase left the service in 2007 so he could be a father to his newborn daughter. He ended up moving to the Big Island 11 or 12 years ago to reconnect with his parents. He recalled he wanted to be around family and reunite that relationship.
Things were good at first. Chase had a girlfriend and they had a son together. He had a stable job and a place to live. Things changed when he got laid off and he lost his job, apartment and girlfriend.
“She wouldn’t let me see my son,” Chase recalled of his ex-girlfriend. “It got me depressed and I turned to drugs.”
Chase ended up addicted to crystal meth. Eventually he started cooking. In 2012 he was on federal probation for possession and promotion of a dangerous drug. In 2014, he went to prison on two counts of armed robbery and first-degree assault. When he was released, he didn’t check into probation and was on the run for two years.
Chase also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and insomnia.
“I used to think the only way to handle that was drinking till I passed out or smoking weed so I don’t have nightmares,” he said.
When he was finally taken into custody, the Veterans Court team worked to get Chase in the program.
“When you first come in — I never thought I’d graduate. But at the time I felt helpless. All I could think about was how not to use drugs,” Chase said. “I’m on the road to regaining my honor.”
When a veteran comes into the program, Chase said, they are given a mentor from the VA. They also helped the 33-year-old apply for benefits.
“I was always too proud to do it,” he said.
The veterans in the program do a lot of things together. Chase said they’re there for each other and they’re all like brothers.
“All the veterans look out for each other,” he said. “We pick each other up.”
Chase’s drug addiction cost him his children. His first daughter he lost parental rights. He is now starting to pay child support for his son.
Chase is now in a relationship has a new baby girl. He believes this is his second chance to be a better father and friend.
“It’s used to be I couldn’t look in the mirror because I hated the person staring back,” he said. “I went from feeling helpless to having a future.”
Throughout the program, Chase has learned to handle the nightmares. With VA counseling, he’s learned drugs aren’t the only answer.
Chase is now a cook at Umeke’s. He said he’s becoming the person he’s wanted to be. In a few months, Chase hopes to open a clean and sober house for veterans in Kona.
“There is no such thing as a clean and sober living for veterans in Kona,” he said. “I think that’s outrageous and our veterans deserve better.”
Third Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino presides over Veterans Court. He said it took over four weeks before Chase finally signed the paperwork to be placed in the program.
“It was just a big switch once he came into the program,” Fujino said. “He did what he needed to do. He had all these obstacles and he completed the program.”
The judge said it’s satisfying to see the veterans turn their lives around and do good.
“I believe in the program because we see it works,” Fujino said. “They (veterans) can actually see that they’re worth something now — back before addiction came into their lives.”
Fujino feels that Chase’s ambition to start a clean and sober house is a good idea.
“Drug court could work with him on that in the future,” he said.