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COL. DJ REYES
U.S. ARMY, RETIRED
Florida
COL. DJ REYES COL. DJ REYES

HE ASSISTS VETERANS STRUGGLING WITH SUBSTANCE ABUSE

By Kristin Davis
Photo by Erin Mac

Retired Army Col. DJ Reyes’ father enlisted in the Army in 1950 because he believed there had to be more to life than pulling pineapples in his native Hawaii for 40 cents an hour. The elder Reyes retired as a warrant officer after a 26-year career.

'We are making veterans whole again.'

DJ Reyes knew nothing but the military. He earned a law degree and a master’s in national strategy and policy at the Naval War College. He went on to provide direct intelligence support to senior officials and combat commanders in global hot spots around the world, including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, and Kosovo.

When Reyes retired after 33 years in the Army, he took a federal job. One day, he became inspired after watching a television program on a Veterans Treatment Court in Harris County, Texas, which provided early intervention and treatment for veterans who had mental health and substance issues, often as a direct result of their service.

In September 2013, Reyes met with Hon. Richard Weis about a plan to create a Veterans Treatment Court in the 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa. There was no budget, no staff, and no veteran mentors to help start the program, but that didn’t deter Reyes. The program started a month later with six veterans and one mentor.

Six years later, the Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa peaked to nearly 250 veterans and more than 140 mentors, who fill the gap in many program requirements while also providing support, advocacy, and training. The Tampa program has served as a statewide model.

“Most of these veterans have served honorably. We try to offer treatment and rehabilitation because it’s a good thing to do,” Reyes said.

In 2019, Reyes traveled to Washington, D.C., to champion for federal legislation supporting veterans courts nationwide — and it became law in August 2020. The Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act by U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of Florida directs the Department of Justice to provide grants and assistance to state, local, and tribal governments to create and maintain veterans treatment courts.

“There is no other court like this,” Reyes said. “This court saves lives. We are making veterans whole again.”

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This material originally appeared in Military Officer, a magazine available to all MOAA PREMIUM and LIFE members.

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