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N.C. judge spends night in jail to help former soldier with PTSD

Click to play video: 'Judge sentences a veteran to 24 hours in jail, then joins him behind bars' Judge sentences a veteran to 24 hours in jail, then joins him behind bars
WATCH ABOVE: Judge sentences a veteran to 24 hours in jail, then joins him behind bars – Apr 22, 2016

North Carolina judge Lou Olivera knows the perils soldiers face fighting overseas and the difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life.

Olivera served with the 18th Airborne Corps of the U.S. Army during the Gulf War.

Now as a district judge in Cumberland County, N.C., he presides over the county’s veterans court, an alternative sentencing program designed specifically to address the needs of veterans.

READ MORE: Watch the stories of Canada’s homeless veterans and the people who help them

On April 12, Olivera sentenced Green Beret Sgt. Joe Serna to a 24-hour jail stint for lying about a urine test related to a drunk driving charge.

The judge knew Serna had been through hell. The Fayetteville Observer reports that Serna had done four combat tours in Afghanistan over a nearly 20 year career with the U.S. Army, where he was almost killed three different times.  As a result of his service Serna was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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When Serna reported for his punishment he was met by the judge who drove him to jail in a neighbouring county.

“When Joe first came to turn himself in, he was trembling,” Olivera told the Observer. “I decided that I’d spend the night serving with him.”

READ MORE: MDMA will be approved to aid therapy for PTSD suffers by 2021: research group

As a veteran Olivera was concerned that leaving Serna in isolation for a night could trigger the effects of his PTSD.

Serna told a local NBC-affiliate that as the two were locked up for the night they talked, trading stories about their time in the military.

“It was more of a father-son conversation as opposed to a judge talking to someone and sentencing them. It was personal,” he told WRAL.

Olivera said he hopes the experience helps the former Special Forces soldier.

“They have worn the uniform and we know they can be contributing members of society. We just want to get them back there,” he said.

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