Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in trouble with the law

Experts see more soldiers facing criminal time

As eight officers surrounded him, Matascastillo stepped out into the yard, waving the guns, looking confused and agitated.

"Shoot me!" Matascastillo called to the police. "Go ahead and kill me!"

After he was finally convinced to surrender, Matascastillo was inconsolable. In the back of the squad car, he told one officer it would have been better if he had been killed. At the jail, he was put on suicide watch.

Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
Richard Leonard survived his tour in Iraq, but he says his life fell apart when he came home
Dave Fick
Richard Leonard survived his tour in Iraq, but he says his life fell apart when he came home

The county attorney wanted to put Matascastillo away for a very long time. He was facing charges of making terroristic threats, domestic abuse, cruelty to animals, and more.

With prison time looming, Matascastillo finally began to see a therapist, Dr. Ernest Boswell, who was a Vietnam vet himself.

A year of therapy later, Matascastillo was able to persuade the court to be merciful. He negotiated his charges down substantially, ultimately pleading guilty to animal abuse and making terrorist threats. He paid a $575 fine, got two years probation, and served 45 days in the workhouse.

Boswell had a counterintuitive cure for Matascatillo's demons: The psychologist suggested deploying with his unit to Iraq.

"Ernie told me, 'This is going to be good. This is going to close the deal for you,'" Matascastillo says. "And he was right."

Driving his men hard, Matascastillo brought every one of them home from the tour safely. When he took attendance for his unit for the last time before leaving Iraq, Matascastillo shook with emotion.

"Afterwards, a chaplain came up to me, and said, 'Hey, you don't look so good.' I said, 'No you're wrong. I just realized that I came out of my crucible, I came out the other side.' It represented finishing the mission for me. I'm the only one who came back from that deployment looking younger."

Now back in Minnesota, Matascastillo has remarried, and this summer he received his social-work degree from Augsburg College.

Last week, he moved into his new office in Brooklyn Park, where he will be counseling veterans in the same system where he first met Dr. Boswell.

"This is full circle for me," he says. "I came through hell, with a lot of people's help. Now I can help people in the same place I was."

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