United States Marine Corps veteran Chris Rios says he was in a very dark place in December of 2014, as he left a bar after drinking.
“I remember being at a bar. Having one too many drinks. And making the worst decision of my life,” he said.
He got into a car, and was pulled over by officer Sameer Kahn.
“He appeared to be impaired by alcohol,” Kahn, who had also been deployed with the Marines, said.
The arrest could have resulted in a $250 fine or time in jail under Virginia law. But thanks to a special Fairfax County court focused on addressing mental health and substance abuse issues among veterans, the arrest led to Rios finding treatment.
“That night, as awkward as it might sound, the stars aligned. This was meant to happen.”
Rios had served two deployments with the Marines to the front lines of the Afghanistan War. Between 10 and 20 percent of veterans from that conflict suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
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Rio is one of the veterans diagnosed with PTSD, he said.
“We leave the war, but sometimes the war doesn’t leave us,” he told News4.
It’s also common for people diagnosed with PTSD to develop a drinking problem, research from the National Center for PTSD suggests.
For Rios, those weren’t just statistics, but chronic struggles that could be addressed by the court program.
Rios entered a two-year treatment program after his arrest and graduated in January. He says the program was supportive.
“They have a heart,” he said. “They do care about you.”
At the graduation ceremony, he was surprised to see officer Kahn in the room.
“I never thought that I’d see him again in my life,” Rios said.
Despite the arrest, there were no hard feelings between the two veterans.
“You’re not happy when you get arrested, but I know that it wasn’t his fault. It’s his job,” Rios said.
“I think Mr. Rios’ success story… .it may really resonate with our generation of veterans,” Kahn said.
The special court, known in Fairfax County as the Veterans Treatment Docket, was launched in February of 2015. More than 230 courts across the U.S. have developed similar programs since 2008, according to a Fairfax County press release.