Pasted below is a letter from the mother of veteran praising the Courts Assisting Veterans (CAVS) program that has been supported by FLVCS since its inception by Judge Lee Haworth, the recipient of the FLVCS 2011 annual Thomas Paine Award.
Special kudos to Greg Para, the current CAVS coordinator and FLVCS member for his good work.
Diverting veterans from the criminal justice system is one of the most effective ways to support the troops and to help veterans over the long haul.
The goal of FLVCS is to establish veterans diversion courts state wide with adequate funding for the vets courts. If we can accomplish that, not only will be veterans be helped, but our communities and states will be better too.
Here's the letter:
To Whom It May Concern:
It is my pleasure writing this letter regarding Greg Para's invaluable work as the Courts Assisting Veterans - Veteran Coordinator for the 12th Judicial Circuit here in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, Florida. It is the least I can do, as I will never be able to repay the debt my husband and I owe Greg for his undying service to our country and to our son, Keith Howard.
My husband and I are very proud of the fact that our son, Keith, is an Iraq War Veteran. Keith is third generation military and he proved his pride and love for his country when he fought gallantly as a Combat Soldier for the United States Army in Iraq. Keith was Honorably Discharged June 30, 2011.
Only 30 years old, Keith was so affected by the horrors of war, that he is now 100% permanently and totally disabled from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, spinal and back injuries/deterioration, debilitating light sensitive migraines, night terrors (he sleeps with a light on in his room), anxiety attacks (he battles insomnia), and depression. He now takes multiple medications which sometimes have adverse reactions due to the experimental nature of treating his many illnesses.
We were at a loss as to how to help our son get better. Other than taking him back and forth to the VA hospital, all we could do was watch our son descend into another form of hell. Keith ended up getting arrested six (6) months after his Honorable Discharge, which began his downward spiral into the abyss of the Florida Criminal Justice System as an offender. His descent only served to deepen his alienation and pain. Incarceration certainly was not in Keith's best interest. He was a threat to himself, not American society. But he found himself locked up as a prisoner in the same country for which he just gave everything.
Keith needed someone to understand his pain, someone who also knew the horrors of what he had gone through in war. I remember thinking that my child survived horrors that most men won't see in 12 lifetimes, but he may not survive this hell we call jail. Then God sent me an angel named Greg Para. God knew we needed His help dealing with my child's issues and Greg appeared out of nowhere in January of this year. You see, a mother never prays so hard as when her child ships off to war, UNTIL that same child is completely helpless on the opposite side of the metal bars of a jail cell. Even as a licensed attorney, I could only do so much to help my son get out of the revolving American criminal justice door where he had found himself just 6 months after surviving war in a foreign country.
But Keith had the compounded problem of his type of mental illness (PTSD brought on by the horrors of war) not even being considered as a mitigating factor in our courts here in Manatee County. That is, not until Greg started fighting so devoutly for the Veterans he loves so dearly and the courts began to listen. Greg is not long out of combat himself and God knew Greg commanded respect and deserved to be heard as he explained his well thought-out plan by which to help our hero's heal and to give them the proper care they need and deserve. Greg articulated to the court, in a way that only he could, why our veteran offenders, not long back from war, should be able to heal their scars of war outside our justice system. That is the least we can do to repay our Veterans' loyalty to us.
Because of Greg's devotion to our beloved Veterans, Keith was beginning to thrive. He was regularly attending therapy with other Vets from other eras and learning how to integrate back into civilian life. I saw a major difference in his coping skills and Keith became positive and hopeful. We all did.
There is no doubt that Greg goes above and beyond the call of duty as Veteran Coordinator. I am writing this letter to give other mothers, fathers, and soldiers hope like the hope Greg has given us. I want these young men, who have fought so bravely for our freedom, to know that when they come home dazed and confused from the fog of war, Greg will never stop fighting for you and your freedom. My family will forever be indebted to Greg Para for his bravery and his compassion. Thank you, Greg, from the bottom of our hearts!
Melony F. Howard, MBA, JD
Attorney At Law
Melony F. Howard, MBA, JD
Attorney At Law