In a late-night session Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) increasing funding for Veterans Treatment Courts to assist veterans who find themselves involved in the justice system.
The amendment passed the House unanimously and was included in the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2015, which passed the House in the early hours of Friday morning.
â€œVeterans returning from war bear the visible and invisible wounds of deployment,â€ Connolly said during debate on the amendment. â€œSubstance abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), brain injuries, and other mental disorders can lead our returning heroes down a difficult and lonely road during their transition to civilian life. Left undiagnosed or untreated, these illnesses can result in an encounter with the justice system.â€
Virginia has the sixth largest number of veterans of any state, with approximately 850,000 veterans residing in the Commonwealth. Fairfax County has more than 85,000 residents who are veterans. Fairfax County is currently working on a plan to create Virginiaâ€™s first Veterans Treatment Docket, with a target start date of January 2015. The first veterans court was established in Buffalo, NY, in 2008. There are more than 130 similar programs around the nation.
â€œWith more than 10 percent of the nationâ€™s prison population identified as veterans, these special courts provide positive and personalized treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental disorders,â€ Connolly said. â€œWhen warranted, the courts can facilitate prison diversion, provide specialized treatment and intensive peer counseling, and help veterans make an orderly transition back into the society they swore to defend.â€
Connolly said the Veterans Treatment Courts can help veterans suffering from substance abuse or mental disorders work their way through the justice system and get the assistance they deserve to alter their course. â€œHaving a veterans-only court ensures that everyone from the judge to the volunteers specialize in veterans care,â€ Connolly said. â€œThe involvement of fellow veterans in the process enables the defendant to experience the camaraderie and mentoring which he or she became accustomed to in the military.â€
Connolly said veterans courts can reduce recidivism among veterans, provide for structured probation and supervision, and help veterans in their transition to civilian life.
â€œThe increased funding for the Veterans Treatment Courts will enable more veterans to get the treatment they deserve,â€ Connolly said. â€œWe owe it to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country.â€