Hillsborough County's veterans court program to get national funding

When the phone rings in the middle of the night, Col. DJ Reyes says he's heard it all, but one was especially chilling.

"Hey, you told me whenever I started losing my mind to call you. I'm calling you with one hand and choking my girlfriend with my left hand," Reyes recounted of a call he received from a distressed veteran.

Reyes is a senior mentor for Hillsborough County’s Veterans Treatment Court.

He retired from the Army in 2013. Since then, he has made it his mission to help other veterans.

"This is where I want to be. It's a court that is not about punishment. It’s about helping the men and woman who I’ve served with for the last 34 years," said Reyes.

The veteran’s court helps those who have had minor run-ins with the law or substance abuse issues, like Joseph Lourenco, who graduated from the program after three years.

Instead of jail time, Lourenco got treatment from a team of experts.

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"I want to thank veteran’s court for saving my life I’m grateful that the court had patience and didn't give up on me," said Lourenco. 

Hillsborough County's program is such a success it is now the model for other states. In fact, Reyes has been spearheading federal funding for years.

He's met with many movers and shakers in Washington and now, it’s finally happening.

"We've already put in for a budget request for the next five years or so. It is a rough number of three to five billion dollars and that will really solidify the program as a national-level program," said Reyes.
The funding will allow the program to be implemented statewide - in all 50 states.

Florida Congressman Charlie Crist is sponsoring the bill.

Reyes says it's passed the House and is now in the Senate. It could be on President Trump's desk before Thanksgiving.

"If we are going to send our men and women into war then we have a moral obligation to make sure they are OK when they come home from war," said Reyes.  

He plans to be in Washington for the signing.