While most veterans will never come in contact with the criminal justice system, a significant proportion may come into contact as a result of the symptoms of mental illness, such as PTSD, mild cognitive impairment, and substance use. Many communities have found that targeted strategies such as veterans treatment courts are effective responses for balancing public safety while providing support to get justice-involved veterans back on track. Other communities have implemented strategies at earlier Intercepts, for example, by diverting veterans at first appearance/arraignment hearings or by training law enforcement to respond to veterans in crisis.
Yet communities need support from states to improve the responses to justice-involved veterans. States have the opportunity to support the communities that are intercepting justice-involved veterans through a variety of strategies. This support can be provided through legislation, grants, policy change, screening recommendations, and training and workforce development initiatives. Many (but not all) of the examples provided below are from the experiences of the thirteen states awarded Jail Diversion and Trauma Recovery – Priority to Veterans grants from SAMHSA.
- Legislatures in states including Colorado (HB10-1104), Florida (SB922), and Texas (SB1940) have passed legislation that authorizes veterans treatment courts for veterans and active duty with a mental and/or substance use disorder. Veterans treatment court legislation varies in terms of the restrictions placed on an individual’s eligibility, including the role of combat duty, the present charges, criminal history, and military discharge status.
- The California legislature has passed a law providing courts with the discretion to divert veterans without authorizing veterans treatment courts.
- In Rhode Island (H6045), the legislature amended the “Domestic Violence Prevent Act” with instructions that veterans guilty of domestic violence offenses can be referred to a community-based treatment program that has been approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Preparing Service Providers
Community-based service providers do not necessarily have the capabilities and understanding of veterans reintegration experiences and military culture to deliver services that are appropriate and culturally competent. For a portion of veterans, the VA is not the preferred health care provider, not accessible, or not available to them based on their service eligibility. The JDTR grantees have prepared service providers to work with veterans with behavioral health needs by providing trainings in reintegration/military culture, therapies for posttraumatic stress disorders (e.g., cognitive processing therapy), and psychosocial group therapies that focus on traumatic experiences (e.g., Seeking Safety, Trauma Empowerment Model for Veterans [V-TREM]). Florida has established a veteran peer specialist certification.
Veterans Reintegration and Military Culture
Preparing behavioral health and justice system practitioners to identify veterans, understanding the implications of veterans’ reintegration experiences and military culture, and responses to veterans with behavioral health needs is possible through training programs. The JDTR grant in Colorado has sponsored a training program, Taking off the Pack, which has reached 2,000 practitioners. Two JDTR grants, Pennsylvania and Texas, convene justice-involved veterans conference each year of their grants. Connecticut has trained jail diversion and military support program clinicians in a Veterans Resource Representative Training program.