DENVER, CO– The House Judiciary Committee today passed Representative David Ortiz’s bipartisan bill to provide veterans in the justice system greater access to a veteran’s specialty court by a vote of 10-0.
“Multiple combat deployments take their toll on all veterans, and while some are able to thrive when they come home, others have greater difficulty,” said Rep. David Ortiz, D-Littleton. “Untreated and undiagnosed mental health struggles in veterans can lead to acting out and even legal struggles. Veteran’s courts are better equipped to support former service members who may be caught up in the justice system precisely because of struggles related to their service, but almost a third of our veterans live in parts of Colorado without access to one. This bill is a crucial step to ensuring that more veterans are aware of and able to access this lifeline.”
Veteran’s specialty courts, also known as veterans treatment courts, are intended to serve current or former members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have behavioral health issues like substance use disorder or trauma spectrum disorder. In certain instances, these courts can offer veterans the possibility of replacing jail time and strict punishments with supervision, treatment, and accountability programs to help them better reintegrate into society.
The first veterans court program opened in 2009 in El Paso county, the 4th judicial district, and since then five more have been created. Under current law, courts are required to ask about a defendant’s veterans status and, in the event that they are in a jurisdiction with a veteran’s specialty court, inform them that they may be entitled to receive services from this court.
HB21-1016 would allow veterans suffering from a mental health condition related to their military service, whose trial occurred in a jurisdiction without a specialty court, to petition to transfer to a jurisdiction with a specialty court to complete their sentence or probation supervision and receive their post-conviction treatment. The bill also stipulates that veterans in all jurisdictions must be informed of these new rights.