To help veterans who have gotten on the wrong side of the legal system after coming home, 44 state attorneys general have sent a letter to Congress urging passage of the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act.
“We have seen too many cases in our courts where veterans commit a criminal offense, often minor or non-violent, which can be attributed in part to a service or combat related injury, mental health problem or substance abuse,” the attorneys general wrote in the letter.
Veteran treatment courts are diversionary court processes, similar to drug and mental health courts, used for minor, non-violent offenses. These courts pair veterans with mentors to address substance abuse and mental health issues and assist veterans with obtaining U.S. Veterans Administration benefits that can help them with treatment and employment.
The bipartisan legislation has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and awaits consideration in the U.S. Senate. It would establish a Veteran Treatment Court Program in the U.S. Department of Justice to provide grants and technical assistance to state, local and tribal courts that implement Veterans Treatment Courts.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt signed the letter advocating the courts.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt did not sign the letter, but the Missouri Legislature passed a bill in May that requires each of the state’s circuit courts to establish a treatment court division before Aug. 28, 2021. Courts will include veteran treatment courts plus adult treatment courts, DWI courts, family treatment courts and juvenile treatment courts.
Kansas City, Mo., recently celebrated 10 years of its veteran treatment court, run in cooperation with the KC VA Hospital. For more info, visit www.kcmo.gov/city-hall/departments/municipal-court/probation-and-problem-solving-courts/veterans-treatment-court.
The first veteran treatment court in Kansas was launched in Johnson County in 2016, and it is still the only one in the state.
More than 3.3 million Americans have voluntarily served in the armed forces since Sept. 11, 2001, the attorneys general say.
Veterans account for 8% of U.S. prison inmates, CBS News reported last year, and there are at least 86 prisons and jails with designated veterans’ housing.
“Sadly, in many cases, veterans are not properly identified, and they become lost in the criminal justice system without the necessary help, medical treatment, and therapy they are entitled to or deserve,” the attorneys general letter continued. “This encourages a cycle of recidivism, hopelessness, non-recovery, and sometimes, serious injury or death. Throughout the country, Veterans Treatment Courts have emerged as a vital tool to break this cycle.”
Veteran treatment courts now number more than 450 in 40 states and territories. A copy of the letter is available at https://bit.ly/2rFhmKb.