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Lawmakers lend help to veterans

As a retired Army Reserve brigadier general, Judge T. Patt Maney looks out for veterans who show up in his courtroom convicted of crimes at home after a tour of war.

Lawbreakers should get a sentence appropriate for their misdeeds, he said. But certain veterans deserve special evaluation.

"I'm just another broken solider," the Okaloosa County judge told choked-up senators at a March committee hearing.

Maney, 62, is the namesake of SB 138, which allows counties to develop jail-diversion programs for veterans charged with certain crimes as a result of traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or substance use stemming from military combat. Serving in Afghanistan in 2005, Maney suffered a traumatic brain injury, the signature affliction of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The idea is one of about 50 bills introduced between the House and Senate this session to benefit veterans and their families. The bills influence veterans' college admissions and tuition, property taxes, state parks admissions, driver's license fees and hunting grounds, among other things.

"You never know what's going to pass, but this is the largest number of bills giving benefits to Florida's veterans that I've ever seen," said William Helmich, a Florida lobbyist for Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

Read more in today's Herald/Times story.