When veterans return from combat, some turn to drugs and/or alcohol to cope with their experiences on the battlefield. Sadly, too many veterans end up in the criminal justice system as a result of their service. Veterans Treatment Courts give our veterans the opportunity to live a sober and stable life while restoring their military honor and their commitment to family and community.

Judge Robert Russell, presiding judge of the Buffalo Drug Court and Buffalo Mental Health Court, created the nation’s first Veterans Treatment Court in January of 2008 in response to the growing number of veterans appearing on his dockets who were addicted to drugs and/or alcohol and/or suffering from mental illness. Immediately following the launch of the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court, Judge Russell and his team were inundated by requests from courts, elected officials, veterans service organizations, and concerned Americans around the country witnessing the same increases in veterans entering the criminal justice system.

What are Veterans Treatment Courts

The bonds of military service run deep. Veterans have many shared experiences not common among civilians. Research suggests that traditional community services may not be adequately suited to meet the distinct needs of veterans in the criminal justice system.

In Veterans Treatment Courts, those who served in our nation’s Armed Forces go through the treatment court process with their fellow veterans and are connected to the federal, state and local services that are uniquely designed for the distinct needs that arise from military service.

Veterans Treatment Courts follow the Drug Court model. Veterans Treatment Court participants receive first class treatment and other services they require to get back on track and lead constructive lives, yet they are also held accountable by a judge for meeting their obligations to society, themselves and their families. Participants are regularly and randomly tested for alcohol/drug use, required to appear frequently in court for the judge to review their progress, and immediately receive rewards for doing well and sanctions for not living up to their obligations.

Who Participates in a Veterans Treatment Court

Veterans Treatment Courts involve cooperation and collaboration with traditional partners found in Drug and Mental Health Courts, with the addition of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration (Veterans Justice Outreach), Veterans Benefit Administration, state department/agencies of veterans affairs, Vet Center, veterans service organizations, volunteer veteran mentors, and other veteran support organizations.

The American Legion and Veterans Treatment Courts

The American Legion provides an extremely valuable service to Veterans Treatment Courts. The American Legion can assist Veterans Treatment Courts by providing Service Officers, mentors, and linkages to federal, state and community veterans’ resources.

Veterans of the United States Armed Forces may be eligible for a broad range of programs and services provided by the federal U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These benefits are legislated in Title 38 of the United States Code. Veterans may also be eligible for specific programs and or benefits through their states’ veterans agency to include other agencies due to their veteran’s status.

Many veterans who enter the criminal justice system are unaware of their eligibility in VA programs and services. Veterans often require additional expertise from accredited American Legion Department (State) service officers in navigating the filing and/or appealing of a claim, peer support and guidance.

Justice For Vets, National Association of Drug Court Professionals

Justice For Vets, The National Clearinghouse for Veterans Treatment Courts is a professional service organization of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and is the lead organization in the nation implementing, advocating, and influencing public policy for VTC’s.


VA&R Health Policy Unit – For questions, please contact us at (202) 861-2700 or via email at var@legion.org

Justice for Vets, the National Clearinghouse for Veteran Treatment Courts- http://www.justiceforvets.org

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Justice Outreach Program - http://www.va.gov/homeless/vjo.asp