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H.R. 2147 (115th): Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018


H.R. 2147 requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire at least 50 Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists at eligible VA medical centers to ensure veterans who become involved in the criminal justice system have greater access to Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs).

The Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act builds upon an existing and successful program created by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009. The Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) program operates through VA Medical Centers in every state and provides timely services to veterans involved with the criminal justice system.

The program relies on VJO specialists, who are licensed social workers. The presiding judge of a Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) works alongside the veteran and the VJO specialist to establish a structured rehabilitation program tailored to the unique needs of that veteran. Specifically, VJO specialists link veterans to available VA services and treatment, and monitor the veteran’s progress in the VTCs.

VTCs are specialty, diversionary courts dedicated to veteran offenders where the veteran is diverted from the regular criminal justice process to address underlying issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse.  This model avoids the unnecessary incarceration of veterans with mental illness, assesses the veteran’s health and social needs, and facilitates the development of a rehabilitation treatment program tailored to the specific needs of each individual veteran.

Currently, there are more than 260 VJO specialists in 167 VA Medical Centers nationwide. However, the VA lacks a sufficient number of VJO specialists to meet the demand for their services. As a result, countless veterans lack access to effective and tailored treatments. Without more VJO specialists, more VTCs cannot be established and the existing VTCs are limited in their effectiveness.

A similar bill, S. 946, the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018, passed the Senate, by unanimous consent, on February 15, 2018.

Last updated Jun 12, 2018. Source: Republican Policy Committee

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Sep 18, 2018.


Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018

(Sec. 2) This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire at least 50 Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists under the Veterans Justice Outreach Program. Each of these specialists must serve as part of a justice team in a veterans treatment court or other veteran-focused court.

A specialist hired under this bill must be placed at a VA medical center that:

complies with VA guidelines for specialist placement, works within a local criminal justice system with justice-involved veterans, maintains an affiliation with one or more veterans treatment courts or other veteran-focused courts, and provides specialists or establishes a VA-approved plan to provide specialists to serve as part of a justice team. The VA shall prioritize the placement of these specialists at medical centers that have an affiliation with a court that was established after this bill's enactment or is not fully staffed with specialists.

The Government Accountability Office shall report to Congress on the effectiveness of the Veterans Justice Outreach Program.