Tester Introduces Bill to Expand Veteran Access to Treatment Courts

Legislation Will Support Veterans Courts in Billings, Great Falls and Missoula

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today introduced a bipartisan bill to increase veterans’ access to substance abuse and mental health treatment through Veterans Treatment Courts in Billings, Great Falls and Missoula.

Tester’s legislation allows for the hiring of 50 additional Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists across the nation to work in Veterans Treatment Courts. Veterans Treatment Courts remove veterans from the regular criminal justice process to address issues such as post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.

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.

“Veterans Treatment Courts do crucial work to make sure that veterans in the criminal justice system are getting specific and specialized assistance that they need to make a smooth transition back to civilian life,” said Tester. “This bipartisan bill will make sure that these treatment courts have the resources they need to serve Montana veterans.”

The outreach program was created by the VA to provide veterans with timely access to services and engage veterans in specialty treatment courts.

There are three Veterans Treatment Courts in Montana, located in Billings, Missoula and Great Falls, but only two Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists.

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

“Veterans Treatment Courts offer veterans an alternative to incarceration where they can receive the services and treatment they’ve earned to cope with trauma and addiction,” said Great Falls District Judge Gregory Pinski. “As a judge, I possess a fundamental belief that courts don’t exist simply to dispense justice, they exist to make the community a better, safer place. Veterans treatment courts fulfill those principles every day for 11,000 veterans who would otherwise be in prison.”

“Additional Veterans Justice Officers are crucial to early identification of justice involved veterans,” said Billings District Judge Mary Jane Knisely. “Without these integral resources, veterans suffering from chemical dependency, severe mental issues and the invisible wounds of war continue to go unserved cycling through the revolving doors of incarceration. I strongly urge and support the passage of The Veterans Court Improvement Act of 2017, which seeks to connect some of the most deserving in the criminal justice system with a liaison linking them to an appropriate therapeutic court. In rural areas like Montana, where services are sparse and needs are great these additional VJOs are imperative.”

“This legislation will increase the capability of the Missoula Veterans Court and the two other Montana Veterans Courts to better serve veterans,” Missoula District Judge Brenda Desmond stated. “Money is well spent on Veterans Courts because they have proven to be effective at restoring veterans to their communities.”

The 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, National District Attorneys Association.