KEARNEY, Neb. — After more than a year of hard work, David Noe reached a milestone on Wednesday.

But his accomplishment wasn’t just a personal breakthrough, it was a landmark achievement in the region.

The Buffalo County resident became the first person to graduate from the Central Nebraska Veterans Treatment Court.

“To see that he is surrounded, as I’ve told him throughout the program, with people who care very deeply about him and want to see him continue to succeed was very, very special,” District Court Judge Ryan Carson said.

Carson presides over the program, which serves Adams, Buffalo and Hall counties. It works like other problem-solving courts, where high-risk, high-need people can complete tasks to get drug charges dismissed.

“It is not an easy program to get through," Carson said. "Our participants, when they come in, they’re told that. They make the decision that I’m ready to make the commitment.”

Participants are drug tested three or four times a week, appear in court weekly, do community service, seek full-time employment, and go through at least 12 hours of treatment a week. Noe says it helped him to fight addiction.

“If we keep an open mind, listen, and we’re honest - not honest just to other people, but honest to ourselves - and look into that mirror, then it’s possible to make changes,” Noe said.

The new program is tailored specifically to veterans. It includes resources available through the VA hospital and veterans services. Each participant is also paired in a mentorship relationship with a local veteran.

“It’s one veteran who understands what it’s like to serve, who understands what civilian life is like after you are discharged from the military, something that a civilian may never understand,” Carson said.

It took 16 months for Noe to finish the program, about two months ahead of schedule. Now, instead of standing in the courtroom facing the possibility of years in prison, the Army veteran stood and shared advice to the program’s other participants.

“Gather around one another, don’t let the other guy fall," Noe said. "Same thing we learned in the military, don’t leave anybody behind.”

There are 11 people currently going through the Central Nebraska Veterans Treatment Court program. Similar programs have had success in Lincoln and Omaha, but this is the first iteration in greater Nebraska.