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Local Iraq War Vet Makes History When U.S. Attorney Decides Against Prosecution | News

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Local Iraq War Vet Makes History When U.S. Attorney Decides Against Prosecution

HAMBURG, N.Y. - Over the past ten years, brave Western New Yorkers have sacrificed their lives, and others their mental health, while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One local veteran, Britten Walker, came home very troubled and did some things he never would have done but for the impact his service had on him.

Federal prosecutors recognizing that fact, treated him not as a criminal, but instead with compassion.

To say that Britten Walker has come a long way over the past few years is a huge understatement.

Today he's a talented artist preparing for a showing of his work.

And a dean's list student at ECC.

But except for a decision by U.S. Attorney William Hochul, a guy known for locking people up, Britten Walker could have been serving up ten years in prison.

We'll get to what turned out to be that life changing moment for Britten Walker in a minute, but first the back story of what led him there.

"The region we were in they called it the 'Triangle Of Death,'" said Walker.

Back in 2006 and 2007, Britten was a sergeant in the infantry serving in Iraq during a a period of very heavy fighting.

You can see the effect that had on him when we asked him to show us some pictures of himself from Iraq, which immediately took him back to that time and that place.

Scott Brown: "Going through these pictures, what memories do they bring back?"

Britten Walker: "It brings back a lot of emotions. It was hard. I just think about all the guys that didn't come home. I think from 2006-2007 our brigade lost 53 guys, and just during the month of March we lost 29 roughly.

"I volunteered for as many funeral services as I could do doing the 21 gun salute. We did it almost daily, we were doing funeral services in country. I don't forget that at all, so I don't know...it's tough to talk about sometimes. That's what I think about."

In 2009, Britten returned home to his three children and wife at his base in Alaska, but he came home a very changed, and damaged man.

Scott Brown: "When you came home what kind of state were you in emotionally?

Britten Walker: "I thought I was doing great, and then the nightmares and flashbacks started happening.

Scott Brown: "When everything started happening were you aware it was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?"

Britten Walker: "Oh totally there was no getting around it. You cannot walk out of the type of combat I was in and not come out of it immensely mentally affected. There's just no way, it just doesn't happen that way."

Scott Brown: "How did that impact you on a day-to-day life basis?"

Britten Walker: "Oh it tore my family apart. I couldn't have conversations with my wife, I was a totally different person, we couldn't get along any more."

Britten moved back home to Hamburg, and began a very rapid psychological descent.

He was fighting with his wife for custody of his children, he wasn't working and he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Britten Walker: "I was just completely losing it and stressed out."

In January of 2010 Britten Walker just snapped. He was charged by the federal government with attacking a V.A. employee and with calling his sister-in-law and threatening to hurt himself and others.

Britten Walker: "I was sedated for days and tied to a bed. Being restrained in your own VA hospital is not a fun situation."

He was facing ten years in prison, but rather than prosecute him, U.S. Attorney Hochul decided against it.

U.S. Attorney William Hochul: "Some of the conduct that he was engaged in was related to the service activity abroad. When that information comes to our attention, we do look for alternatives to straight criminal prosecution."

And so for the first time in the country, a veteran charged with a federal crime was sent to Veterans Treatment Court. Fortunately for Britten there was a court right here, the one created by Buffalo Judge Robert Russell.

And it was there finally that Britten Walker, a man who had served his country proudly and honorably, got the help he needed: mandated therapy, counseling, and a mentor who had like him, been a combat veteran.

Britten Walker: "They help you stay focused and get on task in terms of what you need to accomplish. And they help motivate you to be positive instead of worrying about the negatives and the anguish in life."

Britten was in the program for 18 months and graduated just a few weeks ago.

Scott Brown: "How different are you today from what you were a couple of years ago?"

Britten Walker: "I'm a lot more well rounded and a lot more positive in where I'm going in my life now. I've used art like a therapy. I'll always keep on painting and drawing and doing my artwork."

Scott Brown: "For other vets going through what you went through what's your message to them?"

Britten Walker: "You can straighten your life out, I know I did. I think I'm in a great position in life right now and I'm grateful for the Veterans Court and everyone that helped me get through the crisis I was dealing with at the time."

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