Pennsylvania has one of the largest veteran populations in the country. Tuesday lawmakers held a hearing to stress the need for more veterans courts throughout the state to help vets.
“70% of the incarcerated veterans are serving time for nonviolent offenses. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are about three times more likely to have combat-related Post Traumatic Stress disorder than other incarcerated veterans,” said Represenative Ryan Bizzarro, (D)3rd Legislative District, who sponsored House Bill 2180. The legislation would establish a veterans treatment court in Pennsylvania counties that do not have one.
“We have 17 counties that offer a veterans treatment court. Every county has the opportunity to establish their own veteran court but unfortunately some haven’t at this point,” said Rep. Bizzarro. “It’s time for us to stand up for our veterans who may have seen the unthinkable, or had to make tough decisions, that us civilians couldn’t even imagine.”
Currently there are two bills, one in the House (HB 2180) and one in the Senate (SB 1411) that aim to set up veterans treatment courts across the state. The voluntary program helps veterans struggling with conditions like addiction or mental illness. Vets charged with nonviolent crimes plead guilty to their charges and then receive rehabilitative treatment, under the supervision of specialized judges and probation officers.
“These men and women served their country and they have been injured. They’re willing to lay their life on the line for their country, we as a society have an obligation to treat them. We must leave no veteran behind,” said Representative Marty Flynn, (D) 113th Legislative District.
Lawmakers say the treatment courts make financial sense. According to a press release, in 2013, treatment courts saved York County alone over 24,000 jail days and $981,000, veterans treatment courts included.
At the press conference the group urged other lawmakers to move the two bills, get them out of committee, and up for a floor vote.