My thanks to Dorie Griggs – a former Citadel parent – for sharing this video. It’s worth watching the full 6 minutes to hear from this young cadet on scholarship.
She is living proof of what can be when opportunity is given.
It was only a few years ago that the Florida legislature gave counties permission to create Veterans Treatment Courts as an alternative to criminal prosecution of former military members charged with misdemeanors and third degree felonies.
And in that time 23 courts have been created, but only nine including Pinellas and Pasco counties are funded by lawmakers.
Others like the Veterans Treatment Court in Hillsborough County get no state money.
“We did this within the resources of our offices. Our bosses committed the resources for this court to work,” said Marie Marino with the Hillsborough Public Defender’s Office who represents many of the veterans.
In addition to carrying a full felony docket, Hillsborough Circuit Jude Greg Holder hears all the cases that come before the Veterans Treatment Court (VTC).
“In defense of the legislature though, until we expanded, perhaps it was thought that we didn’t have the need,” Holder said. “Now that it’s expanded, we have over 50 veterans. That need exists and we can use that money and use it wisely.”
Holder took over the veterans’ court in February from Judge Richard Weis when third degree felony cases were added.
Retired Army Col. D.J. Reyes was the first to volunteer as a mentor for the Hillsborough VTC. He now coordinates 33 other mentors – some retired, some still active-duty – along with handling his own caseload.
“It’s been grass roots campaigning on my part because I have no money, I have no funding, I have nothing except me, my time and my energy,” Reyes said.
The mentors are key to the success of the specialty court. All volunteer, they are considered a veteran’s “battle buddy” someone who provides help and accountability. The veterans must check with their mentor at minimum once a week – more often if needed.
Veterans also are assessed by the VA for service related physical and psychological problems. Many need treatment for things like domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse. The VTC gets them enrolled in programs some at the VA others through public, non-profit or even private providers.
Choosing to go through the Veterans Treatment Court is not the easier route. Veterans will spend anywhere from six to 18 months under its supervision. And just like in regular criminal court, the veterans still have to do community service hours and report to the Department of Corrections if on probation.
“The difference in veterans court is the defendants are here voluntarily,” said Hillsborough assistant state attorney Stephanie Ferlita. “They want to seek treatment. They realize they do have a problem. Most of them are embarrassed to have come in contact with the criminal justice system and we are providing them a way to hopefully have a onetime contact with the justice system.”
Another difference in the veterans court – the judge, prosecution, defense, mentors and caseworkers act as a team.
“Even the defense attorney is the first to say, ‘You’ve got to clean up’ or ‘that’s a violation.’ Where in a traditional courtroom, it’s all about defense and mitigation,” Marino said.
The number of veterans seeking admittance into the VTC is growing. And despite having no direct state funding, the court continues to accept qualified veterans.
State Rep. Dwight Dudley from St. Petersburg recently represented one of the veterans in Hillsborough’s VTC. He believes veterans courts should be funded throughout the state.
“If people say they’re patriots and they believe in the value of the service of veterans, they need to step up and put their money where their mouth is and fund the courts the way they need to be funded,” Dudley said.
But the earliest Hillsborough could see any funding would be after January when the legislature meets.
The Veterans Treatment Courts receiving state money this fiscal year:
· Okaloosa ($150,000)
· Clay ($150,000)
· Pasco ($150,000)
· Pinellas ($150,000)
· Alachua ($150,000)
· Duval ($200,000)
· Orange ($200,000)
· Escambia ($150,000)
· Leon ($125,000)
According to the senate president’s office, at this time, there is no specific criteria that determine how and which veterans’ courts get state money.
The House Committee on Veterans Affairs has set a hearing Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. to discuss A Call for System-Wide Change: Evaluating the Independent Assessment of the Veterans Heath Administration.
The 168-page Independent Assessment was also the focus of a joint statement released Friday, Sept. 18, 2015 by Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA-R), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“When we requested an independent assessment over a year ago, many of the failures at individual hospitals were well-documented. However, we all feared that they were just the tip of the iceberg. This in-depth review justifies those fears, and validates Congress’ efforts for years to investigate and uncover the many serious issues preventing the Department of Veterans Affairs from providing America’s veterans with quality, timely healthcare. The VA can no longer deny that its problems, as outlined in this report, are deep-seated and systemic. From delays in care and scandal cover-ups, to rampant unaccountability and a lack of leadership, the VA is an organization challenged at every level.
“This is not just another report to sit on a shelf collecting dust. Failing to act on its findings would be a great disservice to the men and women who have worn the uniform and to the values that make our nation great.
“We know that the Commission on Care will be closely examining these assessments and recommendations, and we look forward to the commission’s plan to end this continuing national tragedy. As the assessment confirms, fixing the VA will require a lot of time and hard work. This report is yet another reminder that it is far past time for President Obama to come to the table and work with Congress to transform the VA into an organization worthy of those it serves.”
Filed under: Health - Physical and Mental, Veterans, Veterans Administration | Tagged: Department of Veterans Affairs, House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller, Veterans Health Administration | 1 Comment »
Whether you hold a candle at the vigil, wave a flag along the routes, ride your bike in memory or make a contribution of your time or money, Marine Families (formerly known as the Tampa Area Marine Parents Assoc., Inc.) is looking for help for its 8th Annual Run for the Fallen.
The two-day memorial event September 19-20 recognizes the nearly 400 “Fallen Heroes” from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and pays tribute to the Gold Star Families.
The “Fallen Floridians Tribute” is already on display through Sunday at Hillsborough Veterans Memorial Park, 3602 N. US Hwy 301, Tampa, 33619.
On Saturday runners and walkers can pick up their participation packets from 5:30-7:30 p.m., you can buy a barbecue dinner and attend the Candlelight Vigil starting at 7:45 p.m. The Bike Run and Rally gathering point is Harley Davidson Tampa, 6920 N. Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa with the ride concluding at Veterans Park for the vigil.
Late registration for the 10K, 5K and 1 mile Memorial Walk and Run is available Sunday from 7:30-8:45 a.m. The opening ceremony starts at 9 a.m. followed by the run/walk. Additional information is available at the Marine Families website or by emailing MarineFamilies.R4F@gmail.com.
A new medical director is at the helm of Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Medical Center. Joe D. Battle has only been on the job seven weeks but already has a long “to do” list.
“We’re trying to get a new bed tower here and authorized for construction,” said Battle, an engineer who started working for the VA more than 32 years.
The plan is to provide individual rooms for veterans now housed in hospital wards that are almost 50 years old.
“My personal belief is every veteran deserves a private room to be in when they come to the hospital, and unfortunately at Haley we don’t have that in all cases,” Battle said.
He has other priorities such as consolidating VA services back onto the main campus at 13000 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa.
“Right now we have a lot of facilities within a 5 mile radius of this campus,” Battle said. “I was joking the other day, it felt like every corner I drove by had a VA clinic of some kind on it.”
The Haley service area of Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco and Polk counties includes more than 90,000 veterans currently being treated by the VA.
Battle, who said he loves technology and innovation, also is working the phone system so callers get a response in less than 30 seconds. Right now, he said, it takes on average about a minute. Providing public Wi-Fi to patients and visitors is another priority.
When it comes to concerns over wait times for medical appointments, Battle said right now 96 percent of veterans get an appointment within 30 days or less. But he’s aiming to make that 99 percent.
Battle hosted a news media roundtable Monday as part of his outreach to get acquainted with the community. He’s already met with several members of congress, visited MacDill Air Force Base, held a mental health summit with local leaders and a town hall with veterans and met with officials from Tampa and Hillsborough County.
This week, the Tampa Bay region lost one of its more notable World War II veterans, retired Judge John Germany. He served as an Army tank commander at age 22 and helped liberate a concentration camp on the German-Austrian border before being sent to the Pacific theater.
The Tampa civic leader passed away Wednesday morning — just one week shy of the 70th anniversary of the formal surrender of Japan ending World War II on September 2, 1945.
The end came less than four years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 – a day Walter Hood, 94, will never forget.
“I went to Ohio State university. I was studying in my room with the radio on and they announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed,” Hood recalled.
He ended up at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio analyzing aerial reconnaissance photographs until the end of the war.
“I hadn’t even been overseas,” Hood said so he volunteered to be part of the crew that photographed the atomic bomb test in 1946 at the Bikini Atoll.
He pages through a thick notebook filled with photos and newspaper clips with headlines like “Photographing the Big Bang.” There are several 8 x 11 black and white photographs of atomic mushroom clouds.
“I kept a diary and I’ve never seen anything so screwed up,” Hood said. “Unfortunately, they knew so little and a lot of sailors were allowed to go into the site right after the bombs were dropped or exploded under water.”
Dropping the atom bomb on Japan brought a quicker end to the war and relief for troops who’d finished fighting in Europe and were headed to the Pacific.
“We were put on a ship and were headed for the Asian theater. We got about halfway across the Atlantic when the Japanese gave up and we were sent back to the U.S.,” said Army Sergeant Al Boysen, a medical technician with the 139th Evacuation Hospital. His mobile medical unit traveled from France, Germany and Austria following the troops.
“In May of 1945, the unit I was with was assigned to a concentration camp. The camp was in the beautiful Alps, right on a lake called Ebensee, Austria,” Boysen said.
That’s the same concentration camp that Tampa’s John Germany helped liberate as an Army tank commander.
“The poor folks that were interned in those camps – in some cases – they were fortunate to be alive, if you could call it that,” Boysen said. “But they were physically and mentally so mistreated that many of them were not able to recover.”
What he witnessed as a 19-year-old is still not easy to talk about at age 90. Instead, Boysen wrote about it in letters to his mother and then compiled those notes into a story after the war. It left him with one thought.
“The biggest question that I have is – how can we teach people to get along with other people in a peaceful manner? I can’t say it any other way,” Boysen said.
Both Boysen and Hood are members of the Village Veterans Club that meets monthly at Tampa University Village.
Within the past week, Saint Leo University in northeastern Pasco County welcomed more than new college students to campus. The 126-year-old Benedictine bastion of learning has a new president after 18 years.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. General Dr. William Lennox Jr. stepped up July 1, 2015 to become the ninth Saint Leo president.
Lennox has a distinguished resume. A 35 year military career, a PhD in literature from Princeton, he served as West Point Superintendent from 2001-2006, and as a senior vice president at a Fortune 500 aerospace company for more than six years.
Now, he’s excited about being immersed back into college life and plans to walk the Saint Leo campus daily.
“I found at West Point that the students provide an energy for you and I’ve always managed, led by walking around, getting out and talking to folks,” Lennox said. “At West Point, I tried to get out of the office by 4 o’clock at the latest and go to practices or whatever was going on at the time. You learn so much more about your college or university when you do that.”
It’s not that he doesn’t already know Saint Leo. Lennox served as a board member for more than seven years before he was asked to take over as president when Dr. Arthur Kirk retired.
“As a board member, I was at the 1,000 foot level. I’ve got to get down to the 100 foot level that the CEO-President operates at,” Lennox said.
One of his challenges is uniting the more than 16,000 Saint Leo students spread out between the Pasco County campus, online and distance learners at more than 40 education centers in the U.S.
“Saint Leo was on the cutting edge with online education and with the community centers they have around the country,” Lennox said. “If you haven’t been there, you can’t appreciate the enthusiasm. A lot of those students are a little bit older, some of them have jobs, some of them have struggled to get their education and Saint Leo means an awful lot to them.”
Many of those students are active-duty military or veterans that Lennox said share the same values as students attending the Catholic university.
“I guess I’m just attracted to universities or colleges that have strong missions and a great value system West Point and Saint Leo,” Lennox said. “Some of the values are excellence – community – respect – self-improvement – integrity – those are the kinds of values that the Benedictines have held for a long time and I think apply to the current situation in the world right now whether you’re an academic – or you’re a businessman or you’re, whatever you’re doing. I think they apply directly and we need more of them in this world right now.”
Lennox sees his job as preparing “value-driven” leaders and embraces the challenge just like he did at West Point when the 9-11 terrorist attacks hit just three months after his appointment.
“Shortly after that, we had the largest number of students in the country that applied and we couldn’t accept everybody certainly. But it was pretty amazing and the motivation of those young folks was extraordinary. And they’ve done some amazing things afterwards,” Lennox said.
Lennox, the educator, expects the Saint Leo students to be similarly motivated to change the world.