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About Us

Description

The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (Hillsborough County) 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 service-related mental illness, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, and/or alcohol and substance abuse disorders.  VTC provides a therapeutic environment coupled with an emphasis on accountability for the veteran.  Veterans are subjected to a coordinated strategy developed by a veterans 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 (5) 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 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’s pretrial intervention 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 VTC post-adjudication opportunities, 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 should complete an application with the assistance of their defense counsel and submit the application to the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).  Upon receipt of the application, VTC case managers will coordinate with defense counsel and the State Attorney’s Office to have the veteran’s case added to the VTC docket.  

 

History

The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (Hillsborough County) 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 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 member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and himself 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 programs across the state and country.   

 

In February 2015, an Administrative Order expanded VTC to include felony offenses and transferred judicial responsibilities to Circuit Court Judge Gregory P. Holder.  Judge Holder also served as a member of the U.S. Air Force, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, both active and reserve components, and himself a fellow veteran.   Under Judge Holder, VTC grew to approximately 100 participating veterans. 

 

In February 2016, VTC was selected as part of a pilot program to help improve VTC 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.


A new Administrative Order was implemented in October 2016, which enabled more growth and expanded services within VTC.  In January 2017, Judge Holder transferred judicial responsibilities to Judge Michael J. Scionti.  Judge Scionti also serves as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and himself a fellow veteran.  Under Judge Scionti, VTC has continued to grow and expand its reach to assist veterans throughout our community, with over 200 participating veterans 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 volunteers mentors give of their own personal time to work directly with the veteran participants.  The VTC Mentor Program consists of six (6)  teams, or task forces (TF), headed by a senior TF Lead Mentor.  Veterans that enter VTC may be subsequently assigned to one of the TF 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 the Vet Center, Steps to Recovery, DACCO (Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office, Inc.), Phoenix House, Agency for Community Treatment Services (ACTS), Tampa Crossroads, North Tampa Behavioral Health, Gracepoint, WestCare, and Northside.