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DeSantis Launches 'Forward March' Veterans Support Program

Florida is reaching out to the 1.5 million military veterans who call the state home with a new initiative.

"Forward March" brings together state and federal agencies, service organizations like the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs and private partners to help support veterans.

Gov. Ron DeSantis - a U.S. Navy veteran himself - spoke at the effort's kickoff event at the University of South Florida in Tampa Friday.

"It's not just saying thank you for your service - it's part of that - but you show me an area that has a vibrant veterans' population, I'm going to show you a more successful community, a more successful state," he said.

DeSantis added that the project will try to eliminate redundancies and more effectively serve vets with the many issues they face.

"You look at the mental health mission. I wish we could say, 'You know, it's just going to fix itself.' It's not going to go away, and so when you see veterans' suicides, you see opioid addictions, that's something we've got to do our best to address,” he said.

DeSantis says "Forward March" will also show there are resources other than those run by the state or federal government.

For example, he's hoping to get more law firms around Florida to offer pro bono legal service to veterans.

Attendees of the kickoff event at USF took part in breakout sessions that focused on mental health, housing and emergency assistance.

"Forward March" officials plan to meet with veterans around the state over the next few months to begin figuring out how to better deliver services to them.

DeSantis also announced a pair of judicial appointments Friday morning at USF.

He named Asst. U.S. Attorney Thomas Palermo, 43, to the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court. Palermo, who received his law degree from the Florida State University College of Law, fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Laurel Lee as Secretary of State.

“Mr. Palermo has led an impressive legal career and I am certain he is ready to take this next step as a judge on the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit,” DeSantis said in a statement. “The people of Hillsborough County can rest assured that he will serve with honor and distinction.”

DeSantis also appointed Jessica Costello, 34, to the Hillsborough County Court. Costello is an Assistant Statewide Prosecutor at the Florida Attorney General’s Office. She also received her law degree from the Florida State University College of Law. Costello fills the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Lawrence Lefler to the Thirteenth Circuit Court.

“Ms. Costello’s work as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office leaves no doubt that she is ready and qualified for this judgeship,” DeSantis said in the statement. “She knows the issues of Hillsborough County well and that will be reflected with her new position on the bench.”

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.