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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: December 22, 2016 10:36 AM
From: Representative Ryan A. Bizzarro
To: All House members
Subject: Veterans Treatment Courts (Re-Introduction)

In the near future, I will be re-introducing legislation – former House Bill 887 of the 2015-2016 Legislative Session – that would establish a veterans treatment court in those counties in Pennsylvania that do not currently have one. Lackawanna County was the first county to establish a veterans court in November 2009. However, many Pennsylvania counties have not yet established a veterans court. These courts assist veterans charged with nonviolent crimes who are struggling with addiction, mental illness or co-occurring disorders.

Because a veterans court judge handles numerous veterans’ cases and is supported by a strong, interdisciplinary team, two or more president judges may jointly form a veteran and service member court, in consultation with the district attorney from each county represented by the joint court. The judges are in a better position to exercise discretion and effectively respond to a veteran than a judge who only occasionally hears cases involving a veteran. A veterans court provides support and guidance from fellow veterans. Those who participate are supervised by specialized probation officers and receive Veterans’ Administration support to address the underlying problems that are often caused by post-traumatic stress disorder.

One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment and one in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffers from a substance abuse issue. Research has shown us that there is a link between combat-related mental illness and substance abuse. Left untreated, mental health disorders common among veterans can lead directly to involvement in the criminal justice system. There are an estimated 703,000 veterans in the corrections system in the United States.

With nearly one million veterans, Pennsylvania has the fourth largest population of veterans in the country. We owe it to our veterans to provide the specialized support and treatment they need.

I urge you to support our veterans and co-sponsor this very important piece of legislation.

Introduced as HB887