Congressman Charlie Crist’s bill could help veterans caught in the criminal justice system

WASHINGTON – When returning from military service, some veterans affected by post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues can find themselves in legal trouble or jail.

It’s a problem Florida Congressman Charlie Crist hopes to prevent.

“It’s to help veterans who come back and are having difficulty reacclimating to civilian life and they get caught up in the criminal justice system for the minor offense of one kind or another,” Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL-13).

His “Veterans Treatment Court Coordination Act” establishes a program within the Department of Justice to help local governments develop and maintain veteran treatment courts.

These courts are designed to provide support and resources for veterans involved with the criminal justice system- rather than punishment.

The first veteran treatment court opened in Buffalo, New York in 2008 now there are over 100 across the country.

More veteran treatment courts are expected to open because of Crists’ bill.

Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie told Washington Correspondent Kellie Meyer that they look at the courts as partners.

“We work cooperatively with state criminal justice systems through our own VHA we make sure that we are there to help veterans that are in need,” Wilkie said.

The VA is helping to coordinate the treatment court program along with DOJ.

Their hope is to expand state and local veteran treatment court programs across the country.

Crist’s bill just passed the House and the Senate version was introduced with bipartisan support by Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Crist said he hopes to see this make it to President Trumps’ desk by the end of this year.

“Who can be against it? Who doesn’t want to help our veterans get a fair shot?” Crist added.

Onboard with the bill is the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and the National Military Veterans Alliance.