United States Attorney John E. Kuhn, Jr., in conjunction with U.S. District Court Judge David J. Hale, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Colin H. Lindsay, Chief U.S. Probation Officer Kathryn B. Jarvis, Chief of Staff Robley Rex VA Medical Center Dr. Mary Lee Rothchild, and Chief Federal Defender Scott Wendelsdorf, recently announced the newly established Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) Program for the Western District of Kentucky.
“Our nation is indebted to our veterans for their service and sacrifice,” stated U.S. Attorney Kuhn. “Many return from combat with serious mental health and substance abuse issues that often go untreated. We have learned that these challenges sometimes lead to criminal behavior,” stated U.S. Attorney John Kuhn. “We expect this program will curb recidivism in our veteran community and go a long way toward promoting sober and crime-free lives that our veterans deserve.”
“Our agency is committed to helping connect those on our case loads with the opportunities, skills, and resources for change. To that end, the Veteran Treatment Court allows us to more intentionally target and tailor our efforts to better serve justice involved veterans. Developing this program also helped us identify new veteran specific community resources which will allow us to better serve all veterans, not just those who are eligible for the treatment court,” stated Kathryn Jarvis, Chief U.S. Probation Officer.
“The Robley Rex VAMC and Veterans Justice program is proud and honored to be a partner with the Western District Federal court, the U.S Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Probation and Parole office in the implementation of the Western District Federal Veterans treatment court. The Veterans treatment court is a model for assisting our Veteran population who have found themselves legally involved due to their often times untreated co-occurring mental health and substance abuse treatment issues or their difficulties with adjusting to civilian life. This partnership will include matching the legally involved Veteran with a mentor as well as identifying and addressing their housing, employment and pro-social needs, in order to empower their continued service to our community post military as they work within this partnership to resolve their criminal offense,” stated Sonny Hatfield, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VTC allows qualified veterans charged with certain non-violent federal crimes to enroll in an intensive court-managed treatment program as an alternative to prison. This program was made possible through a collaborative agreement between the U.S. District Court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Probation Office, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The mission of the VTC is to promote community safety and reduce recidivism by helping justice-involved veterans obtain needed mental health and addiction treatment. Voluntary participants will be monitored and held accountable by the Court-managed program to insure participants attain treatment and rehabilitation.
Veterans who have not been convicted of or charged with violent or sexual offenses may enter the VTC Program in one of three ways: as defendants facing federal misdemeanor charges; as defendants facing federal felony charges; or as felons facing revocation of supervised release after having served any sentence of incarceration.
Veterans Treatment Court requires enrollees to engage in intensive multi-stage professional counseling and treatment for issues involving substance abuse, mental health, disability, finances, and other difficulties, including those related to their military service. They must also abide by strict conditions, follow rigorous treatment plans, and attend scheduled hearings before a judge.
Most participants will be required to participate in the program for 18 months. Upon successfully completion of the voluntary program, veterans can expect the U.S. Attorney’s Office to reduce the charges to a lesser offense, refer the Veteran-Participant to Pretrial Diversion, or dismiss the charges entirely. Most importantly, Veteran-Participants will receive treatment that may help them regain hope for a sober and crime-free life.
The VTC program is only possible due to the availability of rehabilitative programs offered by the VA. Because the VTC program’s essential treatment and counseling services are furnished by the VA Medical Center, veterans must be eligible to receive VA benefits in order to participate.
According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of military veterans in jails and prisons continues to drop since 1978, when 24 percent of prisoners were veterans. Currently veterans make up 8 percent of the inmate population in local jails, state facilities and federal prison. The increasing number of Veterans’ Courts is partly credited for the lower incarceration rate. However, a Department of Veterans Affairs study determined that from 1999 through 2010, between 18 and 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the United States.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed recently by officials from each participating agency during a ceremony held in the Gene Snyder United States Courthouse. The MOU establishes the rights and responsibilities of each stakeholder involved in the VTC program and outlines the expectations for the program’s veteran-participants.