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Research

New Report Shows Veterans Treatment Courts Critical for Reintegration

Three military veterans lined up looking toward the camera.

Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) have increased across the U.S. in recent years. These courts provide military veterans who come in contact with the criminal justice system with critical health and support services and the opportunity to earn a reduction in their sentence. Now, a new report, “Veterans Treatment Courts: 2015 Survey Results” released on November 17, 2016 by the Justice Programs Office, a center within the School of Public Affairs at American University, examines these courts for the first time. The results are encouraging.

“Veterans Treatment Courts are relatively new but we’re pleased to see that they work to help veterans in need,” said Kim Ball, Director of the School of Public Affairs’ Justice Programs Office (JPO at AU). “We hope that this report will assist courts as they continue to improve and meet best practice standards.”

Introduced in 2008, Veterans Treatment Courts address substance use disorders and other issues underlying participants’ involvement in the justice system. Hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and traumatic brain injury. Veterans Treatment Courts help to connect vets with essential health and other services to address these and other issues the veteran may be facing. They also provide a sense of “mission” and a military support network that many participants in the courts say they lost when they returned to civilian life. Successful participants may become eligible to have their sentences reduced or the charges against them dropped.

“The men and women who serve our country deserve all the help we can provide them when they return home,” said AU School of Public Affairs’ Senior Associate Dean Vicky Wilkins, who conducts research on veteran issues. “Veterans Treatment Courts hold participants accountable, but they also allow veterans to receive the treatment and services they need to heal.”

The new report analyzed 129 responses to questionnaires completed by participants in Veterans Treatment Courts around the country. Authors found that these new courts are providing veterans with access to valuable services. Here are some highlights from the report’s findings:

  • Approximately 85 percent of responding courts indicated that they provide mentoring services.
  • Approximately 90 percent of responding courts have critical program elements in place, such as policy and procedures manuals, formal mission and purpose statements, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
  • Approximately 90 percent of responding courts said they shared information with the Veterans Administration to facilitate service delivery, usually through Veterans Justice Outreach specialists assigned to the court.

“The Veterans Justice Outreach specialists are what set Veterans Treatment Courts apart from other problem solving dockets,” said retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton. “The VJOs become part of the court’s treatment team and provide valuable resources. The VJOs also help the vet to navigate a challenging VA system in finding those resources at a time when the vet needs help the most.”

A webinar highlighting the findings of the report will be held on Tuesday, December 13, at 2 p.m. EST. For more information about JPO at AU, visit www.american.edu/spa/jpo and watch the video about Veterans Treatment Courts.