Veterans’ Health

Grantee Name

Justice For Vets

Funding Area

Veterans’ Health

Publication Date

April 2020

Grant Amount

$129,762

Grant Date:

June 2018 – May 2019

While most veterans adjust to civilian life without major difficulties, some do experience challenges reintegrating into their homes and communities.

Compared with similar individuals in the general population, veterans are 8 times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 2–4 times more likely to have major depression. Several studies have shown an increased risk of criminal behavior for veterans with substance use issues, PTSD, and depression, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports 181,500 veterans are in jails and prisons in the United States, comprising about 8% of the incarcerated population. To address the unique needs of justice-involved veterans, Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) were developed as an alternative to incarceration for veterans who have committed low-level crimes and have mental health or substance use issues—offering a second chance by providing them with the treatment they need while allowing them to stay in their own communities.

In 2018, NYSHealth awarded Justice For Vets (under the auspices of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals) a grant to create a universal plan for ensuring that every eligible veteran in New York State has access to a high-quality, high-performing VTC.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Conducted a thorough review of all national and statewide legislative efforts to expand VTCs.
  • Analyzed each of these legislative efforts’ intended goals and strategies to better understand why they fell short and how to devise a more cohesive strategy for New York State moving forward.
  • Formed a consensus workgroup (CWG) comprising a diverse group of stakeholders, including the New York State Unified Court System, Veterans Justice Outreach centers, VTC representatives, New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs, State legislative leadership, and law enforcement/district attorneys.
  • Convened the CWG to develop ideas for and collaborate on the most immediate path to universal VTC access in New York State, as well as identify any potential barriers that could impede these efforts, including:
    • Eligibility standards;
    • Potential conflicts with current statutes in New York State;
    • Role of peer mentors;
    • Impact on anti-domestic violence advocacy efforts;
    • Judicial discretion; and
    • Policies to transfer cases between counties.
  • Produced a consensus plan, in collaboration with NYSHealth, to share principles and recommendations from the CWG with stakeholders in Albany and Washington, D.C. Key recommendations include:
    • Allow cases to be transferred from counties without a VTC to adjacent counties that do to avoid creating new courts that would have a low volume of participants.
    • Exclude factors such as eligibility, standards, and peer mentoring from future legislation to ensure judicial discretion is maintained.
    • Standardize the definition of the term “veteran” to be as inclusive as possible.
    • Allow a provision to ensure the needs of victims of domestic violence are taken into account.

Previous proposals to create a universal access plan for VTCs across New York State have been attempted, but have lacked the input and consensus of diverse stakeholders who are intimately involved in the services that VTCs provide. By forming the CWG coalition of bipartisan participants, Justice for Vets was able to provide valid expertise and recommendations for policymakers and legislators to consider. In 2018, both the New York State Senate and Assembly introduced bills related to VTCs, which directly reflect the findings of the CWG. Both bills are currently in committees and are expected to receive a full vote in the 2020 legislative session.

Justice for Vets’ project has helped set the path for achieving universal access for VTCs in New York State, and NYSHealth continues to build on this work by supporting a range of efforts. NYSHealth produced a policy brief on the progress of VTCs in New York State and a roadmap for expanding VTCs across the State and nationally. NYSHealth is also supporting Global Strategy Group in its ongoing campaign to ensure universal VTC access for veterans in New York State.

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: N/A