Lawmakers send veterans courts bill to governor

State Rep. Jay Barnes and Sen. Will Kraus agree — they encourage Gov. Jay Nixon to sign the veterans courts bill the Legislature sent him this week.

“It’s something that’s great for veterans,” Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said Thursday afternoon. “It’s good for our criminal justice system.

“And it’s a way to help those who have served our country to get the help they need, to get their lives back on track.”

He sponsored a bill this year to help expand veterans courts around the state.

But lawmakers sent Kraus’ version to Nixon.

“It’s the right thing to do for our veterans who come back from combat with a mental illness that they didn’t want,” Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, explained. “Many of them have post-traumatic stress.

“And, if we treat that symptom, then they can be recovered, and we won’t have to put them in our prisons and cost our state dollars.”

Missouri already has four veterans treatment courts — in the Jackson County circuit court, in Kansas City’s municipal court, in St. Louis City circuit court and in a consortium of counties in the Cape Girardeau area.

On its website, the Office of State Courts Administrator explains that a veterans court is like other diversion courts in the state, offering alternatives when someone has been charged with a crime.

“Treatment courts are judicially supervised court dockets that reduce correctional costs, protect community safety and improve public welfare. In treatment courts, drug-addicted individuals remain in treatment for long periods of time while under close supervision,” the OSCA page notes. “Veterans treatment courts are hybrid drug and mental health courts that use the drug court model to serve veterans struggling with addiction, serious mental illness and/or co-occurring disorders.

“They promote sobriety, recovery and stability through a coordinated response that involves cooperation and collaboration with the traditional partners found in drug and mental health courts, with the addition of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care networks, the Veterans’ Benefits Administration, volunteer veteran mentors and veterans and veterans’ family support organizations.”

Kraus noted the law allows a veteran “who is not in an area that has a treatment court, to transfer to one that does. And, it also requires that the treatment courts that are set up, to have a memorandum of understanding of what crimes that court is, actually, going to have in them.”

The veteran can’t be transferred to another court without that agreement, he said.

Barnes added: “That provision arose out of concerns that, in some more rural counties, veterans who might otherwise be eligible would not have access to these same services.

“And we want to make sure that every veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who presents themselves to the criminal justice system has the opportunity to get these services to turn their life around.”

When his bill didn’t pass last year, Barnes promised to pursue a veterans court law this year.

“I don’t care who gets the credit,” he said, after lawmakers approved Kraus’ bill. “I’m thrilled the bill got across the finish line.”

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