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Miller-Meeks & Bost Introduce Legislation to Expand Reach of Veterans Justice Programs

October 8, 2021

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, October 8th, 2021, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) and the Republican Leader of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Rep. Mike Bost (IL-12), introduced the Veterans Justice Outreach Improvement Act. This legislation would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand outreach about the Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) program to ensure that every veteran who could be eligible for VJO is aware of the program.

“The VJO program is incredibly important to supporting our veterans, and there is much work to be done to make sure it reaches every veteran it can help. It is no secret that veterans who have ever a had even a limited involvement in our criminal justice system are more likely to experience homelessness, depression, and addiction,” said Miller-Meeks. “Ensuring our veterans have access to the benefits and services they have earned is a top priority of mine in Congress. I am proud to partner with a fellow veteran, Congressman Bost, to help our veterans access available resources and services.”

“VA’s Veteran Justice Outreach program does vitally important work to support veterans who have been arrested or incarcerated and are at-risk,” said Ranking Member Bost. “We must do everything we can to make sure every veteran who can benefit from the program is aware of it. That’s why I am proud to join my friend and fellow veteran, Dr. Miller-Meeks, in introducing the Veterans Justice Outreach Improvement Act. This bill will bolster VA’s ability to work with stakeholders in criminal justice communities across the country to deliver veterans the help they need.”

To read the full text of the legislation, click HERE.

Background:

Justice-involved veterans who have been arrested and/or incarcerated are at an increased risk for homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide. In 2009, the VA established the VJO program to help support justice-involved veterans. Through VJO, specialists at each VA medical center work with local courts, jails, and law enforcement offices – including those in veteran-specific treatment courts - to identify justice-involved veterans, assess their needs, and connect them with VA benefits and services. In 2020, 36,365 veterans were served through VJO.

In 2021, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled, “Further Actions to Identify and Address Barriers to Participation Would Promote Access to Services,” which found that VJO had certain deficiencies, including with regard to the identification of and outreach to justice-involved veterans and the training of VJO specialists. As a result, not all veterans who could benefit from VJO seek it.

In addition to requiring improved outreach, the Veterans Justice Outreach Improvement Act would require the VA to increase the number of VJO specialists in rural, remote, and underserved areas and to improve training and establish performance goals, measures, and timelines for VJO specialists. The VA would further be required to report to Congress on the availability and efficacy of veteran treatment courts.

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