President Signs Tester Bill to Strengthen Veteran Treatment Courts in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls and Missoula

Tester's Bill Will Hire Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member Jon Tester’s bipartisan bill to bolster veteran treatment courts is now law.

President Donald Trump signed Tester’s Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act, allowing 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.

“I’ve seen firsthand the amazing difference that Veterans Treatment Courts make in the lives of Montana veterans,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Additional specialists will help address the root causes of addiction and give our veterans a real chance at recovery.”

Veterans Treatment Courts remove veterans from the regular criminal justice process to address issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. A judge works alongside a Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist to establish a structured rehabilitation program tailored to the specific needs of each 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. “The signing of the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act into law 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 it becoming law.”

“I laud the signing of the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018 into law,” 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.”

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.