Washington, DC – U.S. Representative Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) released the following statement on passage of his bipartisan bill, the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2019 (H.R. 886), co-led by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY). The legislation, which passed the House by voice vote, will support the unique needs of veterans who find themselves in the criminal justice system by creating a new office at the Department of Justice responsible for providing grants and assistance to strengthen and expand state and local veteran treatment court programs across the country.

“We are blessed in Pinellas and Pasco Counties to have a gold standard veterans treatment court program that offers life-saving and life-changing second chances to non-violent veterans caught in the criminal justice system. Many communities, however, are not so fortunate, and veterans are going without access to this critical support,” said Congressman Crist. “With this legislation, we will expand and bolster existing veterans courts, while helping communities without one set up their own. And with House passage, we are one step closer to this important legislation becoming law. I look forward to supporting efforts to pass a companion bill in the Senate in the coming months.”

“It is incumbent on Congress to make sure our veterans receive the best possible treatment when they return home from serving our country,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “Unfortunately, due to the stressors and psychological impact of their service, some veterans become entangled in the criminal justice system. This bill gives non-violent offenders a chance to rehabilitate themselves through a special program tailored to the unique needs of veterans. I’m grateful to my colleagues for joining us to pass this important, bipartisan bill, and am proud to support our veterans in every way that I possibly can.”

Background on the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act:
After serving our country, too many veterans are experiencing mental health issues, substance abuse, and homelessness, which can often land them in the criminal justice system. Veterans treatment courts provide the counseling, care, and support veterans need to help address these challenges and more successfully transition to civilian life.

The Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act establishes a program within the Department of Justice, in coordination with the VA, to provide grants, training, and technical assistance to help state, local, and tribal governments develop and maintain veteran treatment courts. Currently, these programs are supported by dedicated individuals in law enforcement, the judicial system, the legal community, VA officials, Veterans Service Organizations, and other community organizations.

The bill would provide federal resources for the establishment of new treatment courts. The first veterans treatment court was established in Buffalo, New York in 2008. Since that time, additional courts have been successfully adopted in state and local courts throughout Florida and the nation.  In 2013, Florida's 6th Judicial Circuit Court created a veterans unit to address the unique needs of those in Pinellas and Pasco counties, home to over 130,000 veterans.

The legislation has received the support of American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, American Logistics Association, American Military Society, American and Navy Union of the USA, American Retiree Association, Armed Forces Retirees Association, Association of the US Navy, Military Order of Foreign Wars, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Military Order of World Wars, National District Attorneys Association, National Military & Veterans Alliance, National Veterans Court Alliance, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, The Flag and General Officers Network, The Independence Fund, The Retired Enlisted Association, Society of Military Widows, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Catholic War Veterans. 

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