PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB)–Starting over after leaving military service isn’t always easy. Sometimes Veterans find themselves in a life of crime. To combat this, the Florida judicial system created “Veterans Treatment Court”, a program that gives Veteran defendants a second chance. On Thursday, the Bay County Courthouse celebrated the first Veterans to graduate from the program.
“I wish more people would care for the Veterans, there’s a lot of them in trouble,” said Jeffrey Matthews, a graduate of Veterans Court.
Jeffrey Matthews started the program more than one year ago. Today, he celebrates with a certificate from Chief Judge Christopher Patterson himself.
“This court system, Veterans Court, is a blessing to all the Veterans,” said Matthews.
The 14th Judicial Circuit launched the program after recognizing that Veterans are often overlooked in the court system.
“We pretty much intervene, catch them right when they’re coming into the system. Provide them with the treatment they need through the VA,” said Shonta Covington, the Veterans Court Program Coordinator.
Veterans Court helps find them housing, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and most of all, guidance.
“It’s been a lifesaving component of my life, it turned my life around,” said Herbert Monnin, a graduate.
Monnin says he was placed into the program by Judge Overstreet 17 months ago and now he’s 17 months sober.
“He wanted to sentence me to 24 months in prison, but he found out I was a Vet so he put me in Veterans Court,” said Monnin.
The Veterans must attend mandatory meetings, counseling sessions, and appear in court monthly.
“We’re there to give them that motivation and encouragement and I’m thankful that they are willing and they want to get back,” said Covington.
The program began in October 2018 and can take anywhere from 9 months to 2 years to complete.