FLVCS Helps Vets
A critical FLVCS mission is to help our fellow veterans and we always have projects under way to do so.
Since our founding, FLVCS members, at their own expense, periodically collect and deliver personal items such as books, magazines, lap robes and wheelchair gloves to the wounded warriors being treated at Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.
FLVCS has been active in establishing Veterans Diversion Courts in Florida which are effective in helping veterans who come in contact with the criminal justice system. Veterans diversion courts can help veterans obtain assistance like counseling, substance abuse treatment, training and mentoring by other veterans.
A veterans diversion program, Courts Assisting Veterans (CAVS) was started by Judge Lee Haworth in Florida’s Twelfth Judicial Circuit which includes Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto Counties with initial funding from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. After the first year, the program was funded by Manatee and Sarasota Counties and is currently administrated by Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS). FLVCS has supported CAVS since its inception and FLVCS members have volunteered to mentor fellow veterans who are experiencing financial, emotional, and readjustment issues.
CAVS is designed so that law enforcement agencies determine if an arrestee is a veteran as soon as practical. In cooperation with law enforcement agencies, state attorney, public defender and the court, the CAVS coordinator then works to help the veteran find assistance from community agencies like VA while the veteran remains under the supervision of the court. In appropriate circumstances, after the veteran completes his training, counseling etc., the court can dismiss or reduce any pending charges.
After several years of experience, there is no doubt that the CAVS project helps veterans and is cost effective. Administration costs are low. When veterans can be diverted from the criminal justice system, the cost of expensive court proceedings and incarceration are saved, which more than offsets CAVS’ cost.
Cost aside, the most important result is that veterans who would otherwise be a drain on community have the opportunity to be contributing citizens. As a bonus, as the program has matured, opportunities have arisen to help the veterans with problems before they have become involved in criminal activity or are arrested.
Several years ago, FLVCS presented draft legislation to the Florida legislature. The bill always died before the session ended until this last legislative session when a similar bill passed and the governor signed into law. Unfortunately, no funding was appropriated for the program which is an issue FLVCS will continue to address.
During the last year, FLVCS has co-sponsored two Stand Downs for homeless veterans with The Salvation Army, Jewish Family and Children’s Services and other agencies. At both Stand Downs, homeless veterans were provided with clothing, food, basic medical care, legal services, haircuts and personal supplies like packs, boots and sleeping bags. Last November, FLVCS helped arrange with the cooperation of the Chief Judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit, State Attorney, Public Defender, Clerk of the Court, and the sheriff, a temporary court at the Salvation Army facility where the Stand Down was held. Several pending cases against homeless veterans were disposed of that same day.
Needless to say, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for a homeless veteran to obtain employment with a pending criminal charge on his, or her, record. Disposing of criminal charges is a critical first step toward employability.
FLVCS members volunteer to mentor fellow vets who are experiencing difficulties. Our members and friends are very committed to each other. As a board member, Harry Stimmel, said at a recent talk to the membership, “We are like family.”
FLVCS is a 100% volunteer outfit with no paid staff so we get a big bang for money spent on our projects to help our fellow veterans.