Provided by the Office of Congressman Gerry Connolly
Fairfax County Created Virginia’s First Veterans Court which Held First Session in February
WASHINGTON – An amendment sponsored by Congressman Gerry Connolly to increase federal funding for Veterans Treatment Courts to $6 million passed the House Wednesday evening as part of a major appropriations bill.
Fairfax County recently established Virginia’s first Veterans Treatment Court program, known as the Veterans Treatment Docket. It held its first session in February. The first veterans court was established in Buffalo, NY, in 2008 and more than 200 similar programs have opened around the nation to help veterans who find themselves in the justice system and suffer from substance addiction or mental health disorders.
Connolly’s amendment, which appropriated an additional $1 million for the Veterans Courts program, passed the House as part of of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2016.
“Our nation’s heroes, returning home from more than a decade of war, bear the visible and invisible wounds of deployment,” Connolly said during debate on the amendment. “Substance abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries, and other mental health disorders can lead our returning heroes down a difficult and lonely road during their transition to civilian life.”
Connolly told the House that 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans suffer from PTSD or major depression and one in six battles with substance abuse. “Left undiagnosed or untreated, these illnesses can result in an encounter with the justice system,” the Virginia Democrat said. “Worse yet, these illnesses can also lead to suicide, which veterans commit at twice the rate of the civilian population.”
Virginia has the sixth largest number of veterans of any state, with approximately 850,000 veterans residing in the Commonwealth. More than 85,000 residents of the 11thCongressional District are veterans.
“The comprehensive treatment program provides eligible veterans with an alternative to jail,” Connolly said. “Participating veterans must commit to an 18-24 month program where they receive group counseling, a dedicated veteran mentor, and enroll in vocational, education, and self-help programs. By bringing veterans service organizations, state veterans services departments, and volunteer mentors into the courtroom, Veterans Treatment Courts promote community collaboration and can connect veterans with the programs and benefits they have earned.”
Connolly said, “Having a veterans-only court ensures that everyone from the judge to the volunteers specialize in veterans care, and the involvement of fellow veterans allows the defendant to experience the camaraderie which he or she became accustomed to in the military.”
Connolly said veterans courts can reduce recidivism among veterans, provide for structured probation and supervision, and help veterans in their transition to civilian life. “We know this model works and this amendment provides Veterans Treatment Courts with the resources they need to help veterans who fall into the justice system get back on the right track.”