Legislation in Senate aims to expand veteran treatment courts

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WASHINGTON (CBS19 NEWS) -- A group of senators has introduced legislation to expand access to a type of treatment court that helps veterans.

Senators Time Kaine, Martha McSally (R-Arizona), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Chris Coons (D-Delaware) introduced the bill for veteran treatment courts that allow those who have served the country to get the care they need.

According to a release, such courts work in tandem with the traditional criminal justice system to help rehabilitate veterans who have committed non-violent misdemeanor crimes while they are transitioning back into civilian life.

Through this court system, veterans who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues are able to enroll in recovery programs that are designed to set them on a path to success.

"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," said Kaine. "Our bill aims to get veterans the care they need and helps reduce recidivism in our communities."

The bill, called the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2019, creates 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 release says the bill would provide grants, training and technical assistance for such courts and communities that are interested in starting such a program.

The first veteran treatment court was created in New York in 2008 and there are now more than 450 such courts and dockets across the country that help veterans navigate drug, mental health, and criminal courts.

In 2009, a rather successful version of a veteran treatment court was founded in Tucson and has since expanded. It served nearly 1,000 veterans between January 2013 and September 2019, of whom 759 graduated from their treatment program.

A companion piece of legislation was introduced in the U.S. House last week by Representatives Charlie Crist (D-Florida) and Elise Stefanik (R-New York).

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