Speaker Carl Heastie, Judiciary Committee Chair Charles D. Lavine, Assemblymember Sandy Galef and Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Didi Barrett today announced the Assembly has passed legislation expanding the availability of Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) in the state and authorizing the transfer of cases involving veterans to VTCs in an adjoining county (A.5719-A, Galef).
"Our brave veterans signed up to serve our country, and many have a difficult time readjusting to civilian life when they come home," said Speaker Heastie. "We need to ensure that our veterans are not excluded from the critical services they earned and deserve because of where they live. This legislation will expand access to the unique veteran-focused interventions, programs and services these important institutions provide."
"By providing a structured environment familiar to members of the armed forces and experienced staff sensitive to the needs of veterans, these special courts provide an invaluable service to the men and women who served our country but now struggle adjusting to everyday life," said Assemblymember Lavine. "Increasing veteran access to this alternative to traditional criminal courts makes it possible for more veterans in our court system to receive the specially-tailored attention and support services they need in adjusting to life after the military."
"For some veterans, the return to civilian life can be fraught with challenges. Many who suffer from depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other mental health problems as a result of their service to our country benefit greatly from VTCs in preventing offenses from spiraling into deeper legal and health-related problems," said Assemblymember Galef. "I am proud to sponsor this important legislation that provides greater access to VTCs throughout our state."
“Veterans Treatment Courts provide a much-needed service to veterans in the criminal court system who face mental health, substance abuse or other related challenges," said Assemblymember Barrett. "Making VTCs more accessible throughout our state will allow more veterans to receive the tools, treatment and services they need to heal, improve their lives and reduce the chances of committing future offenses."
Currently, New York has 35 VTCs, but not every veteran has access to these courts. In order to broaden the availability, this legislation will expressly authorize the chief administrative judge to designate more such courts, and authorizes the transfer of appropriate cases against a veteran where the charges are pending in a criminal court in a county that does not have a VTC to an adjoining county that does. In inter-county circumstances, with the consent of the sending and receiving county’s District Attorney, the court may order the removal of the action to a VTC in an adjoining county. The bill would prohibit transfer to a VTC in cases where the offense charged is a family offense, as defined in the Criminal Procedure Law, involving members of the same family or household.
With specially-trained judges and appropriate referral resources, VTCs can help veterans and their families get treatment and services that can help prevent future problems.