Today we celebrate an important victory for health, justice, and New York’s nearly 700,000 veterans. Newly enacted New York State law creates universal access to Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) for all veterans who need one. VTCs are a type of problem-solving court that provide an alternative to incarceration for justice-involved veterans who have mental health and/or substance use disorders. The positive effects of VTCs include reduced recidivism, lower alcohol and drug use, more stable housing, increased opportunities for employment, stabilized relationships with friends and family, and improved mental health. The restoration of veterans’ sense of honor allows them to re-engage with their communities as productive, law-abiding citizens.
New York State is home to approximately 33 Veterans Treatment Courts in 25 counties. However, not every veteran in our State had access to these lifesaving programs. In total, about one-third of New York veterans lacked access to a VTC, leaving them languishing in a justice system not equipped to deal with their unique challenges. Now, that has changed. New statute authorizes the transfer of cases from jurisdictions without VTCs to adjacent counties with VTCs and the establishment of new VTCs. We applaud the Legislature for their leadership—especially Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember Galef, who sponsored the issue in their houses—and Governor Cuomo for supporting the bill and signing it into law.
The New York Health Foundation leaned in hard and acted as a changemaker, more than a grantmaker, to contribute to this policy change. Our involvement with VTCs began a decade ago, when we supported an evaluation of the first-in-the-nation VTC in Buffalo, and then supported VTC replication across the State. Our staff studied the issue and laid the groundwork for change with a research brief. We wrote about it and organized convenings. We are especially proud to have supported recent educational and advocacy efforts to make this happen. We built a coalition of allies. We testified. Justice for Vets, an NYHealth grantee, organized a consensus working group to forge agreement on a universal access plan for New York State for a high-quality, high-performing statewide VTC system. We congratulate and thank them and all of the group’s members for their commitment and participation. Global Strategy Group, another NYHealth grantee, conceived and executed a winning issues campaign. And we thank the veterans who advocated for this policy and shared their personal stories of how VTCs have benefited them.
By enacting this sweeping policy change, New York State has honored and affirmed its commitment to the health and wellbeing of its veterans. It’s a proud day for New York.
David Sandman, Ph.D.
President and CEO
New York Health Foundation