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Current research on veterans treatment courts

November 9, 2022

By Bill Raftery

Each November 11 Americans observe Veterans Day to recognize those who served in the United States Armed Forces. As of March 2022, there were 623 veterans treatment courts (VTCs) and other veteran-focused court programs across the U.S. This is a significant increase since the first court was created in Buffalo, New York in 2008. Even in 2016 there were only 461 such courts. The expansion of VTCs have led to several recent studies and examinations on their innovative approaches and ways to increase such programs.

The first, Reflections and Reactions regarding the Model Veterans Treatment Court Act, appeared in the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law Review in 2022. The article, written by former Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, examined the impact of the development and implementation of VTCs since 2008 with a focus on the wide differences both between states, within the same state, and in some instances even within the same judicial district. Chief Justice Nuss’ proposed solution would be the adoption of the Model Veterans Treatment Court Act created by the Uniform Law Commission to bring standardization and consistency in terms of how these courts operate.

The second, Examining Alternatives to Incarceration for Veterans and Other Policy Innovation, appeared in the National Institute of Justice Journal. Based on observations of eight VTCs teams and service providers, the report found that treatment court participants most often reported mental health issues such as depression (87.9%), aggression (87.9%), post-traumatic stress disorder (84%), insomnia (84%), and anxiety (73.5%). All programs used a sanctions and incentives system, but some VTCs staff were critical of how well the system was communicated to clients, how consistently sanctions and incentives were applied, and whether the incentives for complying were adequate.

The third, Painting the Current Picture: A National Report on Treatment Courts in the United States, was also recently released by the National Drug Court Resource Center. Among the findings, some 12.4% of the 3,856 programs examined were identified as VTCs. The report indicated that between FY 2014 and FY 2019, federal appropriations for VTCs increased by 450% from $4 million to $22 million. Another key finding is that alcohol was the substance most abused by VTCs participants (91.2%).

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