Escambia County State Representative Mike Hill, an Air Force Academy graduate and ten year veteran of the Air Force was the graduation speaker for the Okaloosa County Veterans Treatment Court. REP Hill formerly served at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach before he relocated to Escambia County. REP Hill congratulated the graduates, some of whom were in the court for two years, and encouraged to other justice-involved veterans to complete the program. The graduates included Navy veteran and Viet Nam veteran David Johnson of Milton.
The Okaloosa County Veterans Treatment Court started as a veterans docket in 2010 after Judge Patt Maney, an Army Reservist, returned to the bench following service in Afghanistan. He was wounded and spent almost twenty months recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. In 2012 , the Florida legislature passed the T. Patt Maney Veterans Treatment Court Act to better care for veterans who get entangled with the justice system. The Okaloosa County-based court has handled cases from all four counties from Escambia to Walton Counties.
Veterans Treatment Courts can handle some felonies as well as misdemeanors as part of diversion that leads to dismissal of criminal charges or as part of probation. A major strength of the Veterans Treatment Court is the ability to leverage US VA services to provide treatment to veterans at no expense to the State of Florida so both veterans and their families and the State are benefited. The VA is represented in court by a team that includes a “veterans justice outreach specialist”, a substance abuse counselor, a HUD/VASH housing counselor and a representative of the Vet Center. Bill Eddins, State Attorney and Bruce Miller, Public Defender both have deputies assigned to the court that typically has 35 defendants enrolled in the program at any time. S key component is the use of combat veteran volunteer mentors. Both men and women can be veterans. Some combat veterans suffer from PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and co-occurring substance abuse.
Escambia County started a Veterans Treatment Court in June 2015 with Judge Ed Nickinson presiding.