January 25, 2021, New York, NY – Today, the New York State Health Foundation praised Governor Andrew Cuomo’s transfer policy to expand access to Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs), which was included in the State of the State. New York is home to more than 700,000 military veterans, and the ongoing pandemic may increase the risk of poor mental health among this community. Most justice-involved veterans suffer from mental health issues, including PTSD and depression. Ongoing self-isolation and a lack of access to treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate these conditions. Expanding access to VTCs will help veterans get needed mental health services.
The New York State Health Foundation also released data on the devastating impact of COVID-19 during a time when access to mental health care services has decreased. In a national survey of post-9/11 veterans and service members who incurred a physical or mental injury or illness while serving, the Wounded Warrior Project found that during the pandemic:
- 34% of veterans currently suﬀer from severe or moderately severe depression;
- 52% reported that their mental health has worsened since socially distancing themselves; and
- 30% reported having suicidal thoughts in the past two weeks.
“For too long, too many veterans have been introduced to a criminal justice system incapable of dealing with their unique circumstances. The latest data show growing mental health needs during the pandemic,” said David Sandman, President and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation. “We applaud the Governor for his leadership to expand access to Veterans Treatment Courts throughout New York and look forward to the day that all New York veterans can get the help they need through these lifesaving courts.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than half of all justice-involved veterans have either mental health or substance use disorders. VTCs are a type of problem-solving court, similar to civilian drug courts. They provide an alternative to incarceration for veterans who are charged with low-level offenses and who suffer from mental health or substance use disorders. VTCs give these veterans a second chance by providing them with the treatment they need while allowing them to stay in their communities as they transition to civilian life. To date, VTCs have helped more than 4,500 New York veterans; however, about one-third of New York’s veterans do not have access to these lifesaving courts.
Governor Cuomo’s provision included in the State of the State will enable veterans charged with low-level criminal offenses—excluding domestic violence cases—in counties without a VTC to be transferred to a VTC in an adjacent county. The Governor, in his 2022 Executive Budget, included a provision to ensure statewide access to VTCs to address the unique circumstances and challenges veterans face. This transfer policy ensures all New York veterans across the State have access to these specialized courts.
About the New York State Health Foundation
The New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth) is a private, statewide foundation dedicated to improving the health of all New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable. The Foundation is committed to making grants, informing health policy and practice, spreading effective programs to improve the health care system and the health of New Yorkers, serving as a convener of health leaders across the State, and providing technical assistance to its grantees and partners. | https://nyshealthfoundation.org/