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President signs bill promoting Veterans Justice Outreach specialists

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President signs bill to promote new Veterans Treatment Courts and expand capacity of existing courts Under newly enacted law, VA must hire 50 Veteran Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists for placement at VA Medical Centers around the country to connect justice-involved veterans to critical VA services

On September 17, President Trump signed into law the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R. 2147), which passed the U.S. House via voice vote in June and was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate on August 22. The law requires the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire 50 additional Veteran Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists and place them at eligible VA medical centers (VAMCs) within one year of the bill’s enactment. These VJO specialists will serve in Veterans Treatment Courts or other veteran-focused courts and will help to connect justice-involved veterans with various benefits and services offered by the VA.

This bill will help local criminal justice systems, especially counties, provide treatment alternatives to incarceration for veterans suffering from mental illness, substance use disorders or similar issues. Additionally, placement of VJO specialists will be prioritized for VAMCs that partner with a Veterans Treatment Court established after the bill’s enactment or an existing veterans court that is not fully staffed with VJO specialists.

Veterans Treatment Courts offer veterans an alternative to the regular criminal justice process, providing a program geared toward addressing veteran-specific issues that may contribute to a veteran’s criminal offense, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. The VA’s Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Program was created in 2009 and currently funds 314 VJO specialists across the country who have served more than 180,000 justice-involved veterans since the program was created.

You can learn more about Veterans Treatment Courts and find various resources for counties interested in establishing or improving their own Veterans Treatment Courts at the Justice for Vets website. A representative from Justice for Vets joined NACo’s Veterans and Military Services Committee at NACo’s 2018 Legislative Conference to educate members on how these courts help address the unique needs of our justice-involved veterans and offer their assistance through training and other resources.

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