(Washington, DC) – Today, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation to bolster efforts to provide treatment to veterans in the criminal justice system as an alternative to incarceration, particularly for those struggling with mental health and substance abuse. The Veterans Justice Outreach Act would empower the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to work within the criminal justice system to train law enforcement, courts, attorneys, and legal assistance organizations in order to divert veterans into treatment programs and identify common challenges to reintegrating veterans into society.
“There’s a growing consensus that prison sentences are not the answer for many veterans who are in the criminal justice system, particularly those suffering from post-traumatic stress or substance abuse.” said Shaheen. “Communities in New Hampshire and around the country are responding to this challenge, and we can do a much better job at the federal level supporting those efforts. We need to focus on identifying veterans early-on who are eligible and would benefit from treatment so that they can get back on their feet. This legislation provides a helping hand and a second chance for struggling veterans.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 9.3 percent of our nation’s incarcerated population are veterans, 70 percent of them for non-violent offenses.
Senator Shaheen’s legislation formally authorizes the VA’s Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) program to help judges and prosecutors determine eligibility for VA benefits and enroll veterans in treatment programs. Providing an alternative path to rehabilitation can often help veterans prevent the development of more serious issues, including further interactions with law enforcement or homelessness.