President Donald Trump signed a bill sponsored by Senator Jon Tester Monday that will give additional resources to treat veterans in the criminal justice system across the country.
Tester served as chief co-sponsor of the “Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act,” which passed the Senate unanimously in February of this year.
“I think it’s incumbent upon the United States government to live up to the promises we make to our fighting men and women,” Tester says. “And this is just another step of fulfilling those promises.”
The bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire 50 more personnel that will deal specifically with outreach to former service members in Veterans Treatment Courts.
Those courts help veterans charged with crimes deal with issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse. They’re geared towards rehabilitation rather than jail time and tailor treatment for each individual. Proponents say the courts help with recidivism, employment and overall mental health.
There are four veterans treatment courts in Montana, but only two outreach specialists. Each has to travel between Missoula, Great Falls, Bozeman and Billings to address issues and clients in each courtroom.
Tester says the new bill could better equip Montana courts to deal with some of the state’s 100,000 veterans, but it’s not yet clear how many additional outreach specialists the state will receive.
"I think Montana’s been leading, whether it’s Great Falls or Bozeman or Billings or Missoula," he says. “These folks have been doing some really good work, and I think there’s plenty of need out there for at least one more, and maybe more than that. But we’ll see.”
Tester says this bill is a step in the right direction for veterans in the U.S., but the country still has a long way to go. Specifically, he says the VA needs more medical professionals on the ground.
Tester’s re-election campaign is emphasizing his ability to pass bills that President Trump signs into law; they put that count at 19 now. Trump won Montana by 20 points in 2016.