1. Military

Altman: Veterans court judge gets praise from an old classmate — the VA secretary

Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Gregory Holder received praise from outgoing Veterans Affairs Secretary  Robert McDonald for his work on the county’s veterans court. The two were classmates at West Point.
Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Gregory Holder received praise from outgoing Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald for his work on the county’s veterans court. The two were classmates at West Point.
Published Jan. 27, 2017

It's always nice to see a shoutout from old classmates praising your work.

And that's just what happened recently to Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Gregory Holder.

The message was on the forum page of the U.S. Military Academy's Class of 1975. And it was from Robert McDonald, the outgoing secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

McDonald was praising the work of Holder, his former West Point classmate, with the Hillsborough County Veterans Treatment Court.

"I wanted to add a bit more perspective to those unfamiliar with Veterans Treatment Courts and Greg's lifesaving work," McDonald wrote. "Five years ago there were no Veterans Treatment Courts in the country. So Veterans who got in trouble with the jurisprudence system ... were treated like any civilian, often incarcerated, and often homeless when the incarceration ended. Because of fantastic, patriotic judges like Greg, we now have over 400 Veterans Treatment Courts."

The Hillsborough County Veterans Treatment Court was launched in October 2013 by county Circuit Judge Richard Weis, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel. Weis said he wanted to do something about the steady stream of misdemeanor charges filed against veterans suffering from service-related problems.

The program was expanded in February 2015, to include veterans accused of felonies. The underlying issues are the same, Holder said, and the approach is comprehensive, with the court, prosecutors, the public defender, the Veterans Administration and the county all taking part.

In December, Judge Michael Scionti, another veteran, took over the court.

McDonald cited veterans working for veterans as one reason for success.

The Veterans Treatment Court, McDonald said, is a place "where a veteran who gets in trouble with the law, can enter a VTC, with a judge like Greg who is a veteran, and Greg's team can work with the VA to set up a treatment program for the individual at the VA, usually avoiding incarceration, with strict monitoring and probation, and avoid homelessness."

The success rate, McDonald wrote, "is north of 85 percent. Because of judges like Greg, veteran homelessness is down -50 percent since 2010. Greg, we salute you, sir, for your patriotism, your service, and all you do for veterans! "

Holder said he was moved by the missive, written by a man he first met in 1971 as the two were "eating dirt" as academy plebes.

"I am humbled by it," Holder said. "I am very proud to be a member of this circuit and proud to have served in the Veterans Treatment Court."

Holder was reprimanded last year by the Florida Supreme Court for going too far in advocating for one of the Veterans Treatment Court veterans.

As welcome as McDonald's missive may be, Holder doesn't view it as redemption.

"I am not looking for vindication," said Holder, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 2004.

Making a positive impact on troubled veterans is what counts, he said. Since its inception, the court has saved taxpayers millions of dollars in prosecution and jail costs, Holder said. But the true savings runs even deeper, he said.

"You can't even put a price on the positive impact the court has. We as the VTC are truly saving lives."


The Pentagon announced no new deaths last week in ongoing operations.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 32 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan; 28 troop deaths and one civilian death in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; and one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya.

Contact Howard Altman at or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.


  1. AP file photo of then Gov. and now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott
    DeSantis, Rick Scott and other Republicans have taken a strong stance on Saudi Arabia in recent days. President Donald Trump?
  2. Mandi Parsneau, 34, and her daughter Chloe Ann, 9, wait to return to their home at the Naval Air Station, Friday in Pensacola. The naval base is on lockdown after an aviation student from Saudi Arabia opened fire in a classroom building at the Naval Air Station. The attack left three dead in addition to the assailant and several injured. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington) [BRENDAN FARRINGTON  |  AP]
    The assault was the second at a U.S. Navy base this week and prompted a massive law enforcement response and a lockdown at the base.
  3. Amie Norquist says her family has suffered health problems from mold in their MacDill base housing. They had to get rid of mold-contaminated furniture, too, in an expensive move to a new home in Riverview. [Times]
    The Tampa case is one of several nationwide that target companies managing the property.
  4. To help manage chronic pain, U.S. Army veteran Kenneth Stewart, 59, of Montgomery, Ala., explores a virtual landscape at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. Stewart, a field artillery chief during Operation Desert Storm, suffers from chronic shoulder pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
    Headsets can deliver calming scenarios or return veterans to the place where the stress began.
  5. President Donald Trump speaks at a dining facility during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops on Thursday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON  |  AP]
    The president was on the ground for more than 2½ hours.
  6. Army veteran Brenda Jameson, 50, gets her nails painted with Dazzle Dry clear polish at the Trans Fashion & Health Expo, a joint event by Metro Inclusive Health and Tampa Bay Area Department of Veterans Affairs Agencies on Saturday, Nov. 23. [BETHANY BARNES | Tampa Bay Times]
    Saturday’s Trans Fashion & Health Expo in St. Petersburg was a day long event intended to help the transgender community gain access to resources and services.
  7. Maintainers prepare KC-135s refueling planes to be evacuated from MacDill Air Force Base in August. A new study predicts MacDill and other Florida bases will experience a sharp rise in the number of days when the heat index tops 100 degrees Fahrenheit, making it unsafe to be outside for extended periods. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    MacDill Air Force Base is predicted to see big increases in days the heat index tops 100 degrees.
  8. Andrew Morrow, 67, an Army veteran, has a place to live through Operation Reveille and the Tampa-Hillsborough Homeless Coalition. Some days, Morrow said, he would wake up crying after a night on the streets. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
    Through Operation Reveille, advocates spend the year finding housing for Hillsborough’s homeless veterans. Their numbers have fallen since it launched in 2014.
  9. Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Israel killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza early Tuesday in a resumption of pinpointed targeting that threatens a fierce round of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa) [HATEM MOUSSA  |  AP]
    The Israeli strike killed Bahaa Abu el-Atta and his wife, setting off a furious barrage of Gaza-fired rockets that reached as far as the Tel Aviv
  10. U.S. Army veteran Don Adams, 65, (right) holds his Veterans Treatment Court Certificate of Completion as he hugs Hillsborough Judge Michael Scionti last week. The special court graduated its 700th veteran during a presentation  in honor of the Veteran's Day weekend. "This court saved my life," said Adams, who did not want to participate in the program at first. "This court saved me from me." Pictured left is James. A Jeffries, Chaplain for Hillsborough County veterans. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times]
    The specialized version of drug court puts veterans’ rehabilitation at the forefront. It is becoming a national model.