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Veteran's Treatment Court helping retired service members with PTSD, substance abuse problems

Court helps veterans who commit low-level offenses
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Posted at 4:58 AM, May 24, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — All throughout the month of May, the United States honors those who have served our country with Military Appreciation Month. In the Tampa Bay area, there is an important program helping veterans who may have lost their way, usually in part because of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I have seen my fair share of trauma," said Chris Harmon, a Marine Corps veteran who served eight years.

But like many veterans, Harmon found himself struggling with alcohol and post-traumatic stress disorder as he worked to segue back into civilian life.

"Those hardships can really take a toll," Harmon said. "Not only on the body but on the spirit and the soul as well."

He wound up as one of the first retired service members to go through Hillsborough County's Veterans Treatment Court.

Instead of jail time, this specialty court provides a therapeutic environment, coupled with an emphasis on accountability, for veterans who commit low-level offenses.

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Problem-solving courts are helping keep low-level offenders out of jail. Since the start of the pandemic, the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County has switched to court hearings via Zoom.

"There is added support and structure," said Catherine Toledo, the assistant state attorney in Hillsborough County.

Toledo said everyone works alongside the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other court-approved doctors and providers to help the veteran navigate this very intensive program. Then, at the end of it, comes a new future.

"I think one of the major benefits is that they get to keep their record clean," Toledo said. "This particular case or set of cases that they have entered veterans treatment court are able to be dismissed."

That means some veterans can avoid a felony. Others are able to keep their driver's license and can continue working.

"It gives them the chance to clean up," Harmon said.

Harmon said going through Veteran's Treatment Court helped get him to where he is today. Now, he's working as a mentor to others going through this unique court as a way to give back.

"I think it's great now that we have this opportunity to be able to restore some honor and some faith to some veterans who have lost their faith and lost their way," he said.

To take part in Veteran's Treatment Court, it's often recommended by the veteran's attorney to see if they meet qualifications.

More | Veteran's Treatment Court

You can also learn more by calling the courts at (813) 276-8190.