More than 1.2 million Floridians are barred from voting because of a prior felony conviction — even though they have completed their sentences. That includes thousands of military veterans who have served our country. Each year about 60,000 Floridians finish their prison sentences or probation. In recent years, about 6 percent (approximately 3,600) were veterans. In the past, the percentage was higher — 8 percent in 2007; 11 percent in 1997. In 1978, in the wake of the Vietnam War, the national figure was 24 percent.
Many veterans have been convicted on drug charges. They often endure repeated combat tours, risking their lives, seeing friends killed or wounded. They struggle with the lasting effects of war. In recent years, Florida created special Veterans Courts to help those who commit non-violent crimes, such as drug offenses, avoid prison.
“Veterans with untreated substance abuse or mental health illnesses, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), may find it even harder to return home, which can sometimes lead to criminal activity,” the Florida Supreme Court said.