New law makes it harder for veterans to get into treatment court

Any veteran will tell you, the trauma and scars of combat don’t go away once a soldier leaves the battlefield. The mental toll is too often chased down with drugs and alcohol, which sometimes leads to bigger problems, including legal ones.

In Hillsborough County, Veterans Treatment Court has been successful with helping vets get through the criminal process and get back on their feet.

After graduating, many find their footing again.

But the successful program may be in jeopardy. 

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Attorney Marc Plotnick says a bill that passed the House and the Senate, that is now waiting for the governor’s signature, will hurt veterans and derail their future.

"This is a Molotov cocktail to these veterans’ rights," said Plotnick.

Plotnick says under this new bill, the state attorney’s office will be the gatekeeper of who is let in or out of Veterans Treatment Court. He says giving all the veto power to prosecutors is not a good thing.

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"Even under this new law, if the judge said, 'Hey, this individual really needs treatment,' and the state attorney’s office objects, that veteran will not be permitted into the courtroom and that’s just wrong," explained Plotnick.

He says the previous law is not perfect, but at least now a judge, with input from court-appointed experts, helps decide what kind of treatment a veteran needs.

Plotnick is convinced more veterans will end up being locked up instead of getting treatment.

"They deserve for us to support them they deserve a second chance and this bill is going to potentially take away that second chance," worried Plotnick.

However, Grayson Kamm, chief communications officer for the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office, disagrees. He thinks the new bill is a needed vetting tool.

"These changes are needed for Veterans Treatment Courts to grow across Florida and positively impact more lives. This court is designed for veterans in specific situations where rehabilitation is the main goal, so an application process makes sense to keep out inappropriate cases like homicides," explained Kamm.

The bill is on the governor's desk and he is expected to sign it.