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.