ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla., Jan. 21, 2022 — St. Johns County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Brandon J. Patty congratulates the county Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) for its outstanding success on its five-year anniversary this week.
“It is an absolute honor to serve alongside Judge (Howard O.) McGillin, the Veterans Council of St. Johns County and the VTC team in addressing the unique and distinctive needs of veterans in the justice system,” Clerk Patty said. “VTC helps turn what was an awful day for these veterans into a positive, life-changing moment.”
Veterans Court is an initiative in the 7th Judicial Circuit designed to focus on the distinctive needs of veterans in the criminal justice system. Veterans Court in St. Johns County started in 2017 under the leadership of Judge McGillin and Chairman Bill Dudley of the Veterans Council, with support from St. Johns County.
Within the Clerk of Court’s office, Penny Major and Mary Foust, of its Criminal Division, were involved in the VTC from its beginnings in January 2017.
Major’s 20 years in the U.S. Army inspired her to serve her fellow veterans through the VTC — once a soldier, forever a soldier, she says. Major has worked for the Clerk’s office for 22 years.
Foust, who is now retired from the Clerk of Courts, said working in the VTC was a chance to give back and to be a help to other veterans.
“You only get one chance at this life,” she said. “Make the best of it for you and your family.”
Veterans Courts follow a positive, authoritative model to assist veterans with resolving legal matters while linking veterans to services to which they are entitled, such as medical, substance abuse and mental health treatment, housing, and food.
VTC graduations have been especially meaningful to both Major and Foust. Foust’s favorite memories include seeing the candidates succeed and graduate from the program, “particularly those who struggled in the beginning stages (and) also those who were determined to succeed because of their children.”
“We shared in the veterans’ happy times, and also their sorrows,” Major agreed. “VTC graduation was always great as we got to see how each veteran progressed through the system.”
For eligible individuals who have served the U.S., VTC offers a path to resolve legal issues by addressing and treating the root cause of the alleged criminal behavior by a therapeutic approach using military and veterans’ benefits.
Major recommends others consider becoming involved in the court as a veteran mentor, aka “Battle Buddy,” to encourage, coach, and guide participants through the VTC process.
“Let them know what they did for our nation matters, and they are not forgotten,” she said. “A simple thank-you goes a long way.”
Foust offered words of advice for veterans who may be struggling with substance abuse or their physical or mental health: “You can do it. This is a matter of changing your life for the better or doing the same thing without any change. Follow the orders and directions of your counselors, probation office, and definitely the judge. Everyone is here to help you succeed using all available resources. Never give up. Giving up is not an option.”
“The VTC team goes to extraordinary effort, above and beyond to assist in the healing and rehab of our veterans so they may be productive citizens again,” Major said. “The experience of being part of the VTC team will not be forgotten.”
For information about the VTC in St. Johns County, contact Cynthia Thompson at 904-872-5626. Click here to access details about VTC participation.