[WASHINGTON D.C.] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the Veterans Justice Outreach Improvement Act, legislation to require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand and improve outreach about the Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) program to ensure every veteran eligible for VJO is aware of the program.
“This measure will help identify and support countless veterans needing legal assistance and other critical resources to tackle mental health and substance abuse issues. Lacking representation, veterans are more likely to experience homelessness, joblessness, and health issues. Our bipartisan bill is a beginning step to aid veterans facing challenges in the justice system. I’m proud to work with Senator Cramer in this effort,” said Blumenthal.
“Unfortunately, veterans involved in the criminal justice system have a higher risk of homelessness, suicide, drug abuse, and mental illness. The Veterans Justice Outreach program does critical work to combat this reality by reaching out locally to veterans in the justice system to ascertain their needs and ways to meet. Our legislation builds on this success by increasing outreach to these men and women to ensure those who can benefit from these resources have the support they need,” said Cramer.
In 2009, the VA established the Veterans Justice Outreach (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.
The Veterans Justice Outreach Improvement Act would also 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 veterans treatment courts.
This legislation is endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Student Veterans of America, and the American Legion.
Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA-02).
Click here to read the text of the bill.