The concept of a veterans treatment court (VTC) was first implemented by Judge Robert Russell in Buffalo, New York, in 2008.
In the years since then, the court model, which is based on current drug treatment and/or mental health treatment courts, has steadily grown to be utilized by around 500 different courts across the U.S.
VTCs allow veterans struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, usually those that directly stem from their military service, to have a second chance at freedom after committing a crime.
Last July, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st District, commented on the possible expansion of veterans treatment courts shortly before the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2019 became public law.
Wittman reflected that, “I think it’s our duty as a nation to make sure not a single man or woman who fought for our nation is left behind,” and that, “This is a way for us to give back to them, to get them back on a positive track. It’s this nations’ obligation to do that.”
The expansion of these types of courts is an especially necessary step when it comes to caring for veterans, as over half of justice-involved veterans have mental health or substance use disorders.
Among the current VTCs in the U.S., which span 41 states in total, each of them has strict requirements which must be followed if the applicant’s criminal charges are to be expunged or reduced following completion of the program.
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), in order to succeed, VTCs, “rely on good working relationships between state prosecutors, public defenders, and a judge who will champion the docket and make it a priority.”
The model has rigorous guidelines for participants, and those benchmarks are usually predicated on the nature of their offense, or on the resources of the court hosting the program.
The typical structure of VTCs includes oversight from a peer mentor who is also a veteran, continuous drug and alcohol testing, and guidance from a Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Coordinator in taking advantage of the benefits offered by the VA.
The efficacy of the programs have been contested, as well as the need for them, but many people who have completed the probationary period have admonished the necessity of such programs based on their own success.