Could Florida do a better job at helping veterans who have mental health issues? Some experts seem think so, like Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Steve Leifman. He’s the chairman of the Florida Supreme Court Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Court.
He says Florida has the fastest growing veterans’ population which now is about 1.7 million.
“12 percent of everyone over 18 years of age in Florida is a veteran,” said Leifman. “And, because of these last two very difficult conflicts, we’re looking at possibly 51,000 veterans in Florida with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or traumatic brain injury, which puts them at very high risk of criminal justice activity.”
Okaloosa County Court Judge Patt Maney is a Veterans Court judge. He says as a wounded vet in Afghanistan who suffered a traumatic brain injury, he knows firsthand what it feels like for many of the vets he sees in his courtroom. And, he adds the legislature needs to look at expanding eligibility for the court.
“We have excluded a large number of people who need our services,” said Maney. “If you get out and then get charged with marijuana, you can come into Veterans Court. But, if you’re dealing with your PTSD by smoking dope or drinking alcohol while still on active duty, you can’t.”
There are now 21 Veterans Courts in Florida, and Maney says more are needed.
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