U.S. SENATE — Today, U.S. Senators Martha McSally (R-AZ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced bipartisan legislation to expand access to veteran treatment courts and allow those who served our nation to receive the care they need.
Veteran treatment courts work in tandem with the traditional criminal justice system to help rehabilitate veterans who have committed non-violent misdemeanor crimes while transitioning back to civilian life. Through these courts, veterans struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues enroll in recovery programs designed to set them on a path to success.
“So many veterans come back from war with invisible wounds that result in addiction and other behavioral manifestations,” McSally said. “Veteran courts are a proven way to get our veterans the care they need and get them back on track. Then, they can continue to contribute to society with the military core values they lived by in uniform. Judge Pollard in Tucson and the East Valley Regional Veterans Court have repeatedly had success in these programs and that’s why they ought to be expanded nationwide. Thank you to Senator Tim Kaine and all of the bill’s sponsors for partnering with me on this important and life-changing initiative for our veterans.”
“For veterans who have served our nation and suffered from PTSD, a brain injury, or other trauma, veteran treatment courts help ensure that the criminal justice system is effectively considering the underlying causes of their behavior. Our bill aims to get veterans the care they need and helps reduce recidivism in our communities,” Kaine said.
“Veteran treatment courts give those who have served and fallen on hard times a second chance,” said Cornyn. “Texas is home to a number of these specialized courts, including the first VETS Court established on a military installation at Fort Hood. I’m proud to join with my colleagues to expand this resource so more veterans can work to get their lives back on track.”
“Our veterans gave their all to protect our nation and the freedoms we cherish. It is our duty to ensure that not a single one of the men or women who fought for our nation is left behind,” Rubio said. “I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing much-needed legislation to expand access to veteran treatment courts, to give our veterans a second chance, and to make certain that they are receiving the care they need and deserve.”
“As a country, we make a solemn promise to our veterans to give them the care and the support they need after their service. Veterans treatment courts are a critical tool for ensuring that veterans get access to the services they need through the court system, so I’m proud to join my Republican and Democratic colleagues to support this legislation and continue working to ensure these courts are adequately funded,” said Coons. “Delaware has been a leader in this effort, launching the nation’s first statewide veterans treatment court program in 2011, and I’m eager to build on the success we’ve had in Delaware for veterans everywhere.”
The Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2019 establishes a program in coordination with the Department of Veterans Affairs, to help state, local and tribal governments to develop and maintain veteran treatment courts. The bill would provide grants, training, and technical assistance for veteran treatment courts and communities interested in starting a program.
Companion legislation introduced by Representatives Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) passed the House last week.
“Veterans Treatment Courts provide a lifeline to our vets facing the criminal justice system for drug and alcohol related charges. The wounds of war are often invisible, meaning we need to seek creative solutions to care for those who sacrificed so much for our freedom,” said Congressman Crist. “I thank Senator McSally and Senator Kaine for advancing our efforts in the Senate to get this critical veteran legislation on the President’s desk.”
“It is incumbent on Congress to make sure our veterans receive the best possible treatment when they return home from serving our country,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “Unfortunately, due to the stressors and psychological impact of their service, some veterans become entangled in the criminal justice system. This bill gives non-violent offenders a chance to rehabilitate themselves through a special program tailored to the unique needs of veterans. I’m grateful to Senators McSally and Kaine for advancing this bipartisan effort, and am proud to support our veterans in every way that I possibly can.”
The legislation has received the support of AMVETS, National Center for State Courts, National District Attorneys Association, National Military and Veterans Alliance, National Veterans Court Alliance, American Logistics Association, American Military Retirees Association, American Military Society, Army and Navy Union of the USA, American Retiree Association, Association of the US Navy, Military Order of Foreign Wars, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Military Order of World Wars, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, The Flag and General Officers Network, The Independence Fund, The Retired Enlisted Association, Society of Military Widows, and Vietnam Veterans of America.
Members of the Arizona community express their support for the bill
Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services Director Wanda Wright said: “Arizona has proven that Veteran Treatment Court is a crucial piece toward stabilizing our justice-involved veterans. The process not only focuses on the root causes that contribute to involvement with the criminal justice system, but also creates a community collaborative designed to support veterans with the resources they need to thrive.”
Arizona Supreme Court’s Director of Administrative Office of the Courts David K. Byers said: “Veteran’s Courts have proven extremely successful in Arizona, assisting the men and women who served our country and found themselves in the criminal justice system. I applaud the legislation that emphasizes the development and establishment of Veteran Treatment courts and provides for the coordination of grants and technical assistance to state, local and tribal governments.
Tucson City Court Judge and Founder of Arizona’s First Veterans Court Michael Pollard said: “Senator McSally’s HR 886, the Veterans Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2019, is essential to the ongoing and effective treatment of those who have served their country. It is owed to them. Veterans must be thanked for their service beyond words, and their treatment must be provided effectively and uniformly. The pre plea model results in the dismissal of pending charges and no criminal record. For their sacrifice and dedication, this second chance is what they deserve.”
Mesa Mayor John Giles said: “Mesa’s Veterans Court has changed the lives of so many veterans in our community. The court focuses on problem solving rather than incarceration and the results have been a noticeable decline in veteran homelessness and recidivism. Veterans who participate receive personalized resources to address unemployment, lack of benefits, medical conditions, mental health issues and addiction along with a plan to help them succeed.”
Lake Havasu City Mayor Cal Sheehy: "Senator McSally has always focused on veteran issues for Lake Havasu City citizens and residents of Arizona. We are proud of Senator McSally's continued advocacy to provide Veteran Treatment Court opportunities to the American citizens."
Veterans treatment courts have seen great success in Arizona. In 2009, Tucson City Court Judge and Marine veteran Michael Pollard founded the Tucson Veterans Treatment Court, which has now expanded to be the Regional Municipalities Veterans Treatment Court. The Court has served over 986 veterans from January 2013 through September 2019. Of those, over 759 veterans graduated from their treatment program.
Veteran treatment courts provide staff members not traditionally available in the court system. Judges, local VA officials, veteran organizations, prosecutors, public defenders, and other community organizations work directly with veterans to ensure successful treatment.
The first treatment court was formed in New York in 2008. Now, over 450 veteran treatment courts and dockets across the U.S. have helped veterans navigate drug, mental health and criminal courts.