DENVER, CO– The House today passed Representative David Ortiz’s bipartisan bill to provide veterans in the justice system greater access to a veteran’s specialty court on third reading and final passage. The vote was 60-5.
“Far too often, combat veterans who end up in legal trouble are there as a result of untreated and even undiagnosed behavioral health issues that result from their service,” said Rep. David Ortiz, D-Littleton. “Colorado’s veteran’s courts are designed to take into account the unique needs and circumstances of veterans, and I’m proud that we were able to ensure more of my brother and sister veterans can take advantage of a restorative justice program with a strong track record of success.”
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.