A bill that looks to expand the availability of Veteran Treatment Courts in New York passed the Assembly last Thursday. The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and co-sponsored Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.
Bill A.5719-a would authorize the transfer of qualified cases from a criminal court in a county that does not have a VTC to a county that does. There are currently more than 30 VTCs in New York state.
VTCs are designed to support veterans that are struggling with substance abuse and mental illness as well as adjusting to everyday life after their service. VTCs provide veterans with a structured environment familiar to people who have served in the armed forces as well as connect them with peer mentors to help them transition back to civilian life.
“I am proud to sponsor this important legislation that provides greater access to VTCs across our state,” said Galef, D-Ossining. “Many veterans who suffer from depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other mental health problems as a result of their service to our country benefit greatly from VTCs in preventing offenses from spiraling into incarceration or deeper legal and health-related problems.”
New York created the nation’s first VTC in 2008 to support veterans who suffer from trauma and sometimes engage in low level criminal activity.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who defend our great nation and we must acknowledge the transition back to civilian life isn’t always easy. Combat experiences sometimes take a great toll on their well-being,” said Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who served in the U.S. Army reserve from 1990-1998.
“The trauma veterans experience often leads to mental illness, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that can affect decisions in daily life. We absolutely cannot leave these veterans behind. This bill provides New York veterans with the support and resources they need, rather than leaving them in a system that cannot support their unique needs.”
The bill would also increase the number of VTCs in counties across New York state.
Ginger Kusek, retired U.S. Army Sgt. First Class, supported the bill stating: “The Veterans Treatment Court is a vanguard for treatment for those veterans who have been engaged in criminal actions after serving in the United States Military. This is a program once expanded that will help many veterans.”
The Senate bill (s.1957-a) is sponsored by Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, and has advanced to a third reading.