Witnesses appearing before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee July 19 expressed support for Veterans Treatment Courts, which offer structured intervention, treatment and integrated service for veterans in the criminal justice system who often are struggling with the effects of trauma from their prior military service.
Benjamin B. Tucker, deputy director for the Office of State, Local and Tribal Affairs in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism that the success of the nation’s more than 2,500 drug courts led to development of Veterans Treatment Courts, which now number 75 nationwide and show great promise.
Tucker explained that Veterans Treatment Courts, like drug courts, combine rigorous treatment and personal accountability, but they also incorporate the unique capabilities and services of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), health networks, the Veterans Benefits Administration, state departments of veterans affairs, volunteer veteran mentors, and veterans family support organizations.
The Veterans Treatment Courts work with these veteran-oriented agencies and organizations to connect court participants to treatment, benefits and support services for which they are eligible as veterans. Such services include substance abuse treatment, medical and disability benefits, home loans, and other services intended to help the veterans return home successfully.
Last year, the Obama administration launched an initiative that has trained 21 court teams since last fall. The training curriculum was developed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the VA, the National Drug Court Institute, and numerous Veterans Treatment Courts professionals.
Jeanne E. LaFazia, chief judge of the Rhode Island District Court, testified about the success of a pilot Veterans’ Court program in Rhode Island that she hopes will lead to a statewide Veterans’ Court in Rhode Island in the future. The expansion, she said, will allow the courts to fully address the various needs of returning military and allow the courts to include all individuals who enter the judicial system because of a service-related injury.
The ABA has a long history of supporting initiatives and legislation to help vulnerable individuals. In the past, the association has adopted policy supporting various types of specialized courts, including drug courts, unified children and family courts, and homeless courts for veterans. The ABA also has been working with the VA and other organizations – including the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, AmeriCorps and Equal Justice Works – to promote pro bono legal services for homeless veterans where possible.
Building on the homeless veterans court policy adopted in 1990, the ABA approved policy in 2010 to help guide jurisdictions exploring the creation of Veterans’ Treatment Courts.
According to the ABA, veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are manifesting unprecedented levels of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and are at a higher risk of homelessness or criminalization when faced with mental illness, physical disability, weak social structures and poverty.
“The time has never been more critical to provide a safety net for veterans who have put themselves in harm’s way to protect our liberty in avoiding the predictable poor outcomes that these factors pose, and we need to develop innovative strategies to help veterans transition back to the community to be successful,” according to the report accompanying the association’s policy.