On Monday afternoon ten veterans successfully completed their court ordered program assigned to them by the Orange County Veterans Court. This was a milestone for the Veterans Court program, meeting in downtown Orlando at the Orange County Courthouse. Since 2013 the Court has assisted 150 veterans to complete their jail diversion program and is actively assisting many others. In attendance at this special occasion was Judge Brewer the first Veteran’s Court Judge, Judge Caraballo, Judge Whitehead the current Veteran’s Judge, State Senator David Simmons, County Commissioner Bryan Nelson and many veterans who were seeking alternatives being incarcerated.
Veterans returning from combat may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or have difficulty reintegrating into society. Due to individual circumstances, some veterans fall into drug and alcohol abuse or develop mental health issues. The tragedy of this situation is well known around the country, but in Central Florida there is an active effort at addressing some of the core problems. The Orange County Veterans Court was established to address these issues, and provides our veterans with a unique option. By successfully completing their civic service assignments, veterans can have the charges against them dropped and probation lifted . This incredible program has not always been around.
The Veterans Court in Orange County was patterned after successful programs that were operating in other jurisdictions in other states and counties. The implementing language was passed in the State Legislature by then Senator Mike Bennett and State Representative Bryan Nelson. In 2016 Senator David Simmons of the 10th Senate District fought hard to secure the necessary funds for the court to provide the services that our men and women needed to battle the demons that were inside them. Although many different counties were competing for the necessary resources, Senator Simmons was able to secure a sizable budget for the program locally. Both men were in attendance at Monday's meeting, and were recognized for their contributions. They warmly congratulated the graduates of the program and thanked the judges for their service.
Several judges have served on the Orange County Veterans Court. When the court was first founded, Judge Jerry Brewer was tasked with steering the new program. At Monday's meeting, he fondly recalled his memories of the court, and thanked those in attendance who assisted the program throughout its’ lifespan. Judge Caraballo, who served after Judge Brewer also spoke fondly of the members of the court, and her personal experiences. Also in attendance was the current Justice of the court, Judge Whitehead, who is currently tasked with guiding these veterans on their path forward. He personally congratulated each and every one of the veterans who have completed their civic service program and were ready to rejoin society as a changed veteran. All three of these Justices have managed to make the Orange County Veterans Court one of the most successful programs in the region and have helped to uplift the lives of so many members of our community.
Many of those individuals whose lives have been changed by this program were in the courtroom throughout the ceremony. All of the veterans in the program have unique and different stories to tell. No two veterans stories are alike, however they all have one thing in common, and that is the fact that the court has helped to change their lives. As Judge Whitehead said today, "We judge people by their actions, and how hard they are willing to work to complete this program". Although some veterans may take several years to complete the program and others will only take a matter of months, at the end of it all they will have achieved the exact same goal, and will once again be active members of society.
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