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Veterans Treatment Court: Treatment & Alternatives to Prison

Veterans face a variety of challenges after serving in the military, including increased risk for substance use disorders (SUDs), mental illness, suicide, chronic pain, trauma, and unstable housing.1 Veterans court diversion programs were developed to address the increasing numbers of veterans struggling with SUDs and co-occurring mental health disorders who were also facing legal issues.

What is Veterans Treatment Court?

Veterans treatment court offers treatment services for SUDs and/or mental health disorders rather than incarceration.2,3 These programs are modeled after existing drug or mental health treatment courts that were established to help people with SUDs and/or mental health disorders to receive short term or long term rehabilitation treatment rather than just jail time, which doesn’t address the underlying issues that contributed to the illegal behavior.2,3,4

The first veteran’s drug court was created in 2008 by a judge who noticed that veterans involved in the criminal justice system were often struggling with substance use and/or mental health issues.5 This type of treatment court provides a range of services in the field of outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation, including personalized treatment, mandatory drug and alcohol testing, incentives and sanctions based on progress and toxicology results, and provision of support services to address any additional issues the veteran may be facing.4

American Addiction Centers offers specialized treatment for veterans at most of our nationwide treatment centers. Call our admissions navigators at

How Does Veterans Treatment Court Work?

Early research on veterans treatment courts shows encouraging results, with many participants reducing substance use as well as mental health symptoms, as exhibiting improved functioning in other areas as well.6 These court programs are run differently than traditional courts in several ways that were designed to benefit veterans; primarily, they offer veterans the opportunity to attend individualized treatment programs that address SUDs and mental health issues rather than going to jail.2,3

Another important aspect of the system is that, rather than having a different judge each time who may not be familiar with the unique challenges veterans face, in this model, veterans seen by the same judge each time, and have support from sources such as representatives from the VA, volunteer mentors who are also veterans, and from organizations that offer services designed to assist veterans.2,3,6 The VA offers a range of support to veterans in court, including helping them get linked to veterans court programs, assistance with connecting to VA treatment services, and help with accessing community support services.3,4,5 This can include assistance with housing, employment, and healthcare.3

Eligibility for Veterans Treatment Court

The eligibility requirements for participating in veterans treatment court vary depending on location.3 Some courts will accept veterans charged with a misdemeanor or felony, while others will accept only one or the other.3 In addition, not all courts accept veterans who have been charged with a violent crime or with domestic violence, although there are some courts that do.3

Most importantly, veterans are given the choice to participate in treatment court and must be willing to do so.3 The VA has a program known as Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) that can help determine if a veteran is eligible and assist them in enrolling in a veterans treatment court.3

What Crimes Does Veteran Treatment Court Manage?

Treatment courts work with a variety of crimes, depending on the location.3 These crimes may include offenses such as public intoxication, disorderly conduct, violation of probation or parole, driving under the influence (DUI), domestic dispute, delinquency or non-payment of child support, drug possession or trafficking, vandalism, theft, robbery, manslaughter, or sexual assault.3 The most common crimes that veteran treatment court manages include DUI, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and drug possession.3

Benefits of Veterans Treatment Court

Veterans treatment courts can improve outcomes for those who have served our country and help better society as a whole.3 Receiving treatment can help veterans stay sober so they can more effectively manage mental health issues, which can reduce the risk of suicide and additional legal challenges.1 Veterans who participate in treatment court are less likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to be employed, to obtain VA benefits, and to maintain employment.3 These programs also help veterans maintain stable, independent housing, which can have a large impact on reducing homelessness among veterans.3

Which States Have Veterans Treatment Courts?

There are more than 461 veteran treatment courts throughout the country. Veterans treatment courts are found in most states.3,7 You can learn more about the specific locations for veterans treatment courts in your state or closest to you by going to the National Center for State Courts’ website.

Do I Need VA Benefits for Treatment?

You don’t need to be receiving VA benefits to participate in a veterans treatment court.3 However, VJO staff can help link you to VA benefits and services if you are eligible for them. This can include disability benefits or pension.3 If you don’t qualify for VA benefits, you can be linked to treatment outside of the VA.

There are various payment methods that you can use to pay for addiction treatment, such as health insurance. There are also various state-funded rehab centers in the United States that will cover the full price of your rehabilitation. If you are curious about whether your VA benefits cover addiction treatment at any of American Addiction Centers’ nationwide facilities, or whether your primary or secondary insurance policy covers rehab for veterans, enter your information in the secure form below.

Statistics and Effectiveness of Veterans Treatment Court

Although veteran’s treatment courts are relatively new, studies have shown that they are effective.3,6

Some other addiction statistics regarding the effectiveness of veterans treatment courts include:3,6

  • Veterans treatment court participants were more likely to have improved outcomes in mental health, social functioning, housing, and employment.
  • Only 20% of veterans who participated received sanctions involving jail time during the program.
  • While involved in veterans court, only 14% of veterans had a new incarceration, compared to 23% to 46% of defendants in traditional court.
  • Nearly 90% of veterans with co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) didn’t have any other arrests while involved in treatment court.

Sources

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Substance use and military life DrugFacts.
  2. National Center for State Courts. Veterans courts.
  3. Tsai, J., Finlay, A., Flatley, B., Kasprow, W.J., & Clark, S. (2018). A national study of veterans treatment court participants: Who benefits and who recidivates. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 45(2), 236-244.
  4. United States Department of Justice. (2016). Justice Department announces over $4 million in grants to rehabilitate and reduce recidivism among military veterans.
  5. The American Legion. (2021). Veterans treatment courts.
  6. Justice for Vets. (2021). What’s at stake.
  7. National Center for State Courts. Veterans courts state links.
Last Updated on November 19, 2021
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