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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Standing with our veterans in Veterans Court

There are some titles that can never be shed. One is United States veteran.

With this in mind, Hillsborough County recently initiated an effort known as Veterans Court. This is a unique effort to make honorably discharged veterans, many who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, who run afoul of the law for nonviolent misdemeanors aware of the numerous available U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs programs.

This effort requires accountability, as the participants must attend hearings and evaluations and treatment for substance abuse or mental health challenges. This court is not designed to provide preferential treatment to any veteran, as all participants must answer to and face any consequences of the charged offense.

For Judge Richard Weis, who is assigned to Veterans Court, this effort was a natural extension of his service to our nation. Weis serves his country not only as a judge but as an Army Reserve officer whose service includes time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assisting Judge Weis is a growing group of veteran mentors. One mentor who has taken a leading role is D.J. Reyes. Reyes, a recently retired Army colonel who has been deployed throughout the world, now focuses on leading veteran mentors in their newest mission to help their brothers and sisters here at home. As veterans who know what it is like to feel as if they are "strangers in a stranger land" after returning home from combat, they are uniquely qualified to assist Veterans Court participants.

For all good Americans, this is where the "rubber meets the road" in invigorating our notions of patriotism and respect for our troops. Unfortunately today, the lives of too many Americans have no connection to that honorable but small group of exemplary Americans who serve in combat. We are not stakeholders in the welfare of our returning veterans, but instead are often mere observers.

President Theodore Roosevelt once remarked that an American "who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards . ." For our veterans, that "square deal" must include a sincere societal recognition of the unique sacrifices made with a reasonable accommodation of the associated emotional trauma that can accompany that sacrifice.

Veterans Court is one way we can stand with our heroes.

Our veterans, from the Minutemen in Lexington and Concord to today, have served as answers to sincere prayers from the oppressed throughout the world and breathe life into our most cherished American values. Today, when strength is needed in defense of our values and interests, it is the veteran who says to his or her country, "Here am I; send me." The idealism and compassion of every service member should never be underestimated.

And that is why all good Americans should support veterans courts. Our heroes are worth fighting for.

As an attorney and an American, I am proud of the work Judge Weis and his volunteers do. These heroes have a unique love for country which, to quote Adlai Stevenson, is not a "short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." I encourage all readers to lobby legislators to give our heroes, who have given us so much, the fair and equal treatment they deserve, and fund more veterans courts.

Luis E. Viera lives in Tampa.

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