ST. LOUIS • Nick wanted to kill himself with heroin.
He was already dealing with horrible images seared into his brain as an Army infantryman who was in the Pentagon during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Then two years later, he was almost killed in a car crash.
And nearly two years ago, his 2-year-old son was killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident. Nick was sitting with him on the vehicle when the boy apparently hit the throttle. Nick fell off the back, and the ATV struck a tree with the toddler still aboard.
Nick, who did not want his full name used in this story for fear of damaging his business, said he wanted to die, too. He went from a clean-cut veteran who had never used drugs to a heroin addict. "I was using it as a means to an end," he recalls.
Nick was eventually charged with drug possession.
But this month, Nick, 31, of Eureka, is set to graduate from Veterans Treatment Court, a special program started in last January as part of the St. Louis Circuit Court.
The program is rigorous. Participants — all of them non-violent offenders — must attend support group meetings, submit to random drug tests and meet frequently with a judge and representatives of the Veterans Administration.
"It's a little like the military," said Nick. "They force you to do something and you learn from it. It's one of the best things you've ever done, but you never want to do it again."
About 12 veterans are attending the court in St. Louis. If they successfully complete the steps, the charges against them will be wiped from their records or they may be released early from court supervision.
The process takes from a year to around 18 months; Nick is set to be one of the first graduates.