Veterans Court Now Available for Vets Charged with Federal Crimes in Montana
HELENA – Chief U.S. District Court Judge Dana L. Christensen, Chief Montana District Court Judge Gregory G. Pinski and U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter, are pleased to announce that qualifying veterans charged with federal crimes are now eligible to participate in Veterans Court, an alternative to prison. The announcement results from a collaborative agreement that allows qualified veterans in the federal system to enroll in the Montana Eighth Judicial District Veterans Court, which has been operational since 2013 for veterans accused of state and local crimes.
"Judge Greg Pinski of the Eighth Judicial District has created a model Veterans Court,” said Chief U.S. District Court Judge Dana L. Christensen. “The Montana District Federal Court welcomes the opportunity to be a partner in this effort, and to be able to provide this option to veterans who have been charged with federal crimes."
“Too many veterans are winding up in the criminal justice system suffering from mental illness, cognitive impairment and substance abuse. They cannot cope with the invisible wounds of war on their own, and the Veterans Court gives them an opportunity for treatment and restoration,” said Chief Montana District Court Judge Pinski. “The collaborative approach between the Montana federal and state courts to treating veteran offenders is unique and it will greatly expand treatment opportunities for Montana’s justice-involved veterans.”
In 2014, the United States Department of Justice awarded the Veterans Court nearly $300,000 to build and expand the program. The Veterans Court reduces crime, enhances public safety, saves taxpayer costs, and enriches lives by facilitating sobriety, treating mental health conditions, improving social relationships, and promoting lifelong stability for veteran offenders in the community. The program is a joint effort between the courts, community treatment providers, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and volunteer mentors.
“Veterans are returning to Montana every day,” said Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter. “We look forward to utilizing Veterans Court in federal cases so that qualifying veterans can get structured treatment and return to their lives and families in Montana.”
Veterans Court requires enrollees to engage in intensive multi-stage professional counseling and treatment for issues involving substance abuse, mental health, disability, finances, and other difficulties, including those related to their military service. They must also abide by strict conditions, follow rigorous treatment plans, and attend scheduled hearings before a judge. Veterans accused of federal crimes will now have the same opportunity to enroll in the program as part of their federal cases if they meet certain criteria and have not already been convicted of violent or sexual offenses.
In 2004, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report stating that approximately ten percent of state prison inmates had prior military service. The Bureau also estimated that 140,000 veterans were in state and federal prison. According to a Congressional Budget Report and the Rand Corporation, one veteran in five of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and nearly twenty percent report experiencing a traumatic brain injury during deployment. An estimated thirty percent of Vietnam veterans have PTSD.
A Department of Veterans Affairs study determined that from 1999 through 2010, between 18 and 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the United States. “The suicide rate alone is justification to help justice-involved veterans,” Pinski emphasized.