Coffman, Flake Introduce Bill Expanding Veteran Access to Treatment Courts

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Washington, DC, April 26, 2017 | comments

U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (CO) and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (AZ) today introduced H.R. 2147 / S. 946, ‘The Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act’. The bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire additional Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists in order to ensure veterans have greater access to effective and tailored treatment.

The VJO program was created by the VA to provide veterans with timely access to VA services and engage justice-involved veterans in specialty treatment courts. The veteran’s treatment court model removes veterans from the regular criminal justice process and helps to address symptoms that are unique to veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. In a veteran’s treatment court, the presiding judge works alongside the veteran and the VJO specialist to establish a structured rehabilitation program that is tailored to the specific needs of that veteran.

“Veterans who have served our nation should not have to wonder if their country is standing at their side during their time of need. Adjusting back to civilian life after the military is one of toughest challenge our men and women in uniform face, often due to underlying issues related to their service,” said Coffman, adding:We should help these service members with rehabilitation as they navigate the criminal justice system and expanding the Veterans Treatment Courts program is vital in this process. Our veterans have served us - now let us serve those veterans who need our help.

Local Impact: At the 18th Judicial Veterans Treatment Court (Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, Lincoln Counties), veterans who have both graduated and been terminated (successful or unsuccessful) have not acquired any new criminal charges and no veterans have reoffended since termination. Currently, there is a 73% success rate for those who have participated in the program.

“More than a half million veterans call Arizona home, and it is important that we provide them with the best assistance possible when their transition back to civilian life is met with challenges,” said Flake. “While veteran’s treatment courts have a proven record of reducing recidivism rates, they are underutilized due to a lack of VJO specialists nationwide. Congress can solve that problem by passing this bill to provide Veterans Treatment Courts with the resources and manpower necessary to deliver tailored and effective treatment to the veterans who need it.”

The Veterans Court Improvement Act would:

  • Authorize $5.5M for each of fiscal years 2017 through 2027 for the VA Secretary to hire 50 additional VJO Specialists to work with justice-involved veterans in veteran treatment courts. This subsection also requires the Secretary to identify cost reductions within the Department to offset the authorized amount.
  • Preference in funding priority would be given to VA Medical Centers that work with newly established VTCs or understaffed, existing VTCs.
  • Require the VA Secretary to periodically report on the Department’s implementation of the bill and its effect on the VJO Program.
  • Require GAO to review and report on the implementation of the bill and the overall effectiveness of the VJO Program.
  • Does not limit or impede individual state and local courts from applying for or receiving other funding under any federal grant program

Current Supportive Organizations: The Colorado District Attorney’s Council, The American Legion, American Veterans (AMVETS), Justice for Vets, Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Student Veterans of America (SVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Wounded Warrior Project.

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