Tester Bill to Strengthen Veteran Treatment Courts Goes to President

(U.S. Senate) – The U.S. Senate unanimously passed Ranking Member Jon Tester’s bipartisan bill to strengthen veterans’ access to substance abuse and mental health treatment through Veterans Treatment Courts.

Tester’s Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act allows for the hiring of 50 additional Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists across the nation to work with Veterans Treatment Courts and help provide timely access to VA services. Veterans Treatment Courts remove veterans from the regular criminal justice process to address issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

“Veterans Treatment Courts have proved their worth in helping hundreds of Montana veterans get back on their feet,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “These additional Specialists will help connect veterans with meaningful treatment, instead of relying on our jails for rehabilitation.”  

In a Veterans Treatment Court, a judge works alongside the veteran and a Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist to establish a structured rehabilitation program tailored to the specific needs of that veteran. These efforts have proven to drastically reduce recidivism rates in veterans, while providing services that help veterans heal from the invisible wounds of war.

There are only two Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists in Montana who cover the Veterans Treatment Courts in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, and Missoula.

The presiding Judges of these courts praised Tester’s bill:

“Veterans treatment courts are a critical resource for veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war,” said Great Falls District Judge Gregory Pinski. “Senator Tester is a champion of veterans treatment courts.  His efforts to expand those courts connect more veterans to the services they need and deserve and save the lives of thousands of veterans in crisis.”

“The Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018 marks an important step towards carrying out America’s longstanding commitment to Veterans,” said Missoula Standing Master Brenda Desmond. “Veterans Treatment Courts provide a rigorous path back to the purposeful life veterans had prior to their encountering adjustment difficulties, most often related to combat exposure.  Key to the success of Veterans Courts is the collaboration of Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists who provide strength-based advocacy, treatment expertise and coordination of services through the VA Healthcare system. Hiring additional Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists will allow even more Veterans to participate in Veterans Courts, benefitting their families and our communities.”

“Our assigned Veteran Justice Outreach Specialist (VJO) based out of Billings does amazing work for the veterans in our Veteran Eligible Treatment Services (V.E.T.S.) Court, in spite of the fact that she has to travel four hours round trip to work with them,” said Bozeman Municipal Court Judge Colleen Herrington. “Passage of the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act opens up the possibility for a VJO assigned to this community that can serve our veterans without sacrificing valuable travel time and suffering the inherent technological difficulties and limitations in remotely serving this population. I stand in support of this ACT and applaud Senate passage of it.”

“I laud the passage of the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018,” said District Court Judge Mary Jane Knisely. “Fifty additional liaisons will serve Justice Involved Veterans, keeping pace and connecting our service men and women with the medical and mental health treatment benefits they deserve.  These integral Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists will assure early identification and linkage to dedicated therapeutic courts, keeping the Nation’s veterans from the revolving doors of incarceration.” 

The Senate unanimously passed the House companion bill to Tester’s Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act. The bill now goes to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Tester’s Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act is supported by the American Legion, American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Justice for Vets, Student Veterans of America, Addiction Haven, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the National District Attorneys Association.