Staff Report

MIAMI— Veterans have unique needs that are different from the rest of the civilian population. Now, Miami-Dade Military Affairs Board has pledged $75,000 over the next three years to support the creation of the Miami-Dade Veterans Treatment Court. The initiative will provide rehabilitative services for veterans who have been charged with non-violent crimes and have been identified as suffering from serious mental health conditions or substance-abuse disorders.

The specialty court will divert veterans from the traditional criminal justice system and provide them with the tools needed to successfully reintegrate back into civilian life – while still under court supervision.

“As someone who has served in the military, I am very excited to see the Veterans Court one step closer to becoming a reality,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who also serves as Chairman of the Miami-Dade Military Affairs Board. “I know the Veterans Court will make a huge difference in the lives of veterans, which is why the Military Affairs Board has pledged $75,000 to this worthy cause.”

A significant number of veterans returning from military service have been exposed to prolonged combat resulting in physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. These conditions sometimes lead to mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders that make it difficult for veterans to reintegrate to civilian life, and sometimes lead to behaviors resulting in arrest.

“We are pleased that our court was recognized as worthy of receiving this prestigious federal grant. With this grant and the pledge of additional funding from the County, our hopes of establishing an independent treatment court for eligible veterans will soon become a reality,” said Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez, who will lead the implementation of the Veterans Treatment Court.

The project is the result of longtime collaborative effort among the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida and its justice and community partners: Miami-Dade County, Miami-Dade Military Affairs Board, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office,

Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Miami VA Health Care System, and South Florida Behavioral Health Network.

A “veterans track” in the Circuit Criminal Division is currently serving 12 veterans.

The Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida and its justice and community partners have received a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to support the project.

“Miami-Dade County has been at the forefront of implementing these evidence-based treatment courts, such as our drug and mental health courts, with proven success in treating the program participants and significantly reducing future relapses. Because of the unique needs of our veterans, it is necessary to establish this independent court. Incarcerating these individuals without providing intervention and treatment for the underlying condition does not reduce future crime and is not a good use of tax- payers’ dollars,” Judge Tinkler Mendez added.

“This therapeutic Veteran’s Court will help identify veterans as soon as they enter the court system and group them together to receive the proper services,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

“This grant makes it possible to better address the needs and challenges of many of the veterans entangled in the court system,” added Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez. “They served our country. Now, in their time of need, we can serve them.”