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Kerry, Murkowski Bill Will Create Veteran Treatment Courts

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Kerry, Murkowski Bill Will Create Veteran Treatment Courts

In response to the growing number of veterans denied the mental health treatment needed to address their post traumatic stress who end up in legal trouble after self-medicating to suppress their anxieties, Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today introduced the Services, Education, and Rehabilitation for Veterans (SERV) Act to create veteran drug treatment courts to support veterans combat the cycle of alcohol or drug addiction. A similar program is operational in Buffalo, NY and has already seen great success.

"These treatment courts will address the specific challenges with drugs and alcohol too many veterans face when returning home from their honorable service overseas," said Senator John Kerry. "For those who have given so much for our country, we should address the serious issues of drug and alcohol addiction in an appropriate forum that recognizes that some veterans fall victim to substance abuse as a way to handle post-traumatic stress. It's well past time we offered our veterans services worthy of their sacrifice."

"Some of the brave men and women who have served our country fall victim to alcohol and drug addiction and end up in our criminal justice system," said Sen. Murkowski. "Drug courts are an effective way to break this cycle of abuse and help these veterans re-enter society. The Alaska Court System already has successful drug courts in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Bethel, Juneau and Ketchikan, and there is a Veterans Court in Anchorage. This bill would provide additional funding for some of Alaska's existing therapeutic court programs and would allow more nonviolent-offender programs to be developed across the state. The SERV Act is particularly important for Alaska, which has one of the highest veterans per capita rates in the nation."

"War exacts a tremendous psychological toll on the warrior and unfortunately some veterans turn to drugs and alcohol for solace," said Patrick Campbell, Chief Legislative Counsel for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "As a grateful nation, we must honor the service of our fighting men and women by providing them alternatives when they run afoul of the law. The SERV act will offer struggling veterans a lifeline through the darkness. Veterans will still be held accountable for their actions, but will be given an opportunity to heal and find their way home."

"It is an honor to have such distinguished members of the Senate lead the effort to bring the drug court model to those veterans in need," said National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) CEO West Huddleston. "Both Senators Kerry (D/MA) and Murkowski (R/AK) have long been a champion for drug courts on Capitol Hill. We are truly grateful for their leadership and commitment. Judge Robert Russell and the Buffalo team were truly forward-thinking when they created this much needed intervention for America's veterans. Our troops, who put their lives on the line day in and day out, deserve the best our justice system can provide when they face trouble back home in their community," continued West Huddleston. "This is a step in the right direction for veterans with post-traumatic stress, emotional and mental health issues. These individuals require help, not punishment."

The SERVE Act would authorize funds to go to the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the development and implementation of veteran's treatment courts or to enhance operational drug courts to serve veterans. The grants would be administered by the Department of Justice in consultation with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

To be eligible for funding the veteran's treatment court or drug court serving veterans must effectively integrate substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, mandatory drug testing, sanctions and incentives, and transitional services in a judicially supervised court setting with jurisdiction over nonviolent, substance-abusing offenders that have served in the United States military.

Also included is the authorization for the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI). The NDCI is a bipartisan supported organization that conducts national, comprehensive training programs for State and local communities for the purpose of improving the professional skills of drug court practitioners and enhancing the ability of State and local communities to expand drug courts to reach all addicted citizens in need of their resources.

The SERV Act is endorsed by the National Drug Court Professionals Association and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

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