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About Us

Description

The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) is a specialized court established to serve veterans currently in or about to enter the criminal justice system, who either serve in the military or have been discharged from the military under honorable conditions and who suffer from a military service-related mental illness, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorder, or psychological problem such as post-traumatic stress disorder or military sexual trauma.  VTC provides a therapeutic environment coupled with an emphasis on accountability for the veteran.  Veterans are subjected to a coordinated strategy developed by a veteran treatment intervention team.  As part of the coordinated strategy an appropriate treatment plan, specific to the needs of the veteran, is determined through assessment and evaluation by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) providers or other court-approved providers.  The coordinated strategy encompasses five phases.  The veteran’s advancement from one phase to the next is not automatic and will be determined by the Court after review of the veteran’s progress in each phase of the program.  The coordinated strategy includes a protocol of incentives to encourage the veteran’s compliance with the program, as well as sanctions to discourage the veteran’s noncompliance. 

 

Pursuant to Section 948.16(2), Florida Statutes, and Administrative Order S-2016-032, veterans may be eligible for entry into one of the VTC Pretrial Diversion Programs, e.g., VTC Misdemeanor Intervention Program (VMIP) or VTC Felony Pretrial Intervention Program (VPTI), which allows the veteran to have his/her case dismissed by the Court upon successful completion of the program.  Further, veterans with a prior conviction may be eligible for the VTC Post-Adjudication Program, where he/she may be offered a reduced sentence upon successful completion of the program.  VTC also incorporates a veteran-based mentor program to provide additional support to participating veterans.


Eligibility

Eligibility for entry into VTC is determined by the Court on a case-by-case basis.  Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, e.g., Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, who are part of the active or reserve components serving in good standing, as well as those with prior service who have been discharged from the military under honorable conditions may be eligible for entry into VTC.  Veterans seeking entry into VTC must complete an application with the assistance of their defense counsel and submit the application to the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).  Upon receipt of the application, a VTC case manager will coordinate with the veteran’s defense counsel, the State Attorney’s Office, and the Clerk’s Office to have the veteran’s case set for status conference on the next available VTC docket, generally on a Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. 

 

History

The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) was developed and implemented under the direction of former Chief Judge Manuel Menendez, Jr.  VTC was the culmination of two years of collaboration between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of the State Attorney, Office of the Public Defender, and the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s court administration and staff.  The first VTC session was held in October 2013, with County Court Judge Richard A. Weis presiding.  Judge Weis also serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General’s Corps and is a fellow veteran. 

 

Initially, only honorably discharged veterans who committed qualifying misdemeanor offenses were eligible for entry into VTC.  At that time, there were only six qualifying veterans admitted into the program.  Judge Weis, together with Colonel DJ Reyes, U.S. Army (Ret.), established a VTC Mentor Program that continues to this day.  VTC Mentor Programs serve as a critical component of successful VTC Courts across the state and country.   

 

In February 2015, Administrative Order S-2015-012 expanded VTC to include qualifying felony offenses and judicial responsibility and oversight was then transferred to Circuit Court Judge Gregory P. Holder.  Judge Holder is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, both active and reserve components, and is a fellow veteran.  Under Judge Holder, VTC participation grew to approximately 100 qualifying veterans. 

 

In February 2016, VTC was selected as part of a federal pilot program to help improve VTCs nationwide.  The pilot program was developed by the Center for Court Innovation in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections.  The pilot program consisted of screening tools that addressed the unique needs of veterans.  Today, VTC case managers administer the screening tools for applicants seeking entry into the program.

 

Pursuant to Administrative Order S-2016-032, separate misdemeanor and felony VTCs were formally consolidated into one VTC to facilitate more effective and efficient operations, and in January 2017, judicial responsibility and oversight was transferred to Judge Michael J. Scionti.  Judge Scionti also serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General’s Corps and is a fellow veteran.  Under Judge Scionti, VTC participation has continued to grow and expand its reach to assist qualifying veterans throughout our community, with over 200 participants in the program. 

 

Due to this growth, the VTC Mentor Program has expanded as well.  Currently, there are over 60 volunteer mentors.  These VTC mentors are veterans whose collective military experience span from the Vietnam conflict to more recent combat operations in the Middle East, as well as contingency and humanitarian operations throughout the world.  The VTC Mentor Program draw experienced volunteer mentors from active, reserve and retired military service ranging in rank from E-5 through O-6, and come from all branches of service.  Most importantly, these volunteer mentors give of their own personal time to work directly with the veteran participants.  The VTC Mentor Program consists of seven teams, or task forces (TF), headed by a senior TF Lead Mentor.  Veterans that enter VTC may be subsequently assigned to one of the TFs and specifically to a veteran mentor.

 

Since the beginning of the VTC Program, majority of the participating veterans have received treatment through the VA, specifically the Tampa-based James A. Haley VA Healthcare System or the St. Petersburg-based Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.  Other community-based agencies are regularly utilized for specialized treatment, such as Athena House, Agency for Community Treatment Services (ACTS), Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, DACCO (Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office, Inc.), Goodwill Industries, Gracepoint, North Tampa Behavioral Health, Phoenix House, Riverside Recovery, Steps to Recovery, Tampa Crossroads, The Vet Center, WestCare, and many others.