U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist celebrated a three-year trek to justice for veterans this weekend.
The St. Petersburg Democrat saw a bipartisan measure that he first introduced in 2017 — the concept of a Veterans Treatment Court — passed into law after being signed by President Donald Trump.
The bill was first introduced by Crist and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik in November in 2017, and it passed the House of Representatives last October. It passed the Senate by unanimous consent in January 2020 and ultimately was signed into law by Trump over the weekend, and Crist celebrated its passage.
“With this new law, thousands more Veterans across the country facing the criminal justice system will have an alternative to jail time, ensuring they get the treatment they need,” he said. “Our local Tampa Bay Veteran’s courts have been a lifeline for so many and were the model for this legislation. The funding and resources being made available under this law will go toward standing up many new Veterans programs and expanding current ones.”
The courts are designed to allow veterans with mental health issues the opportunity to get treatment instead of being exposed to potential jail time. The law calls for the Department of Justice — in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs — to establish a program that will provide grants, training and technical assistance to help governments develop and maintain their veteran treatment courts. That, in turn, should mean more treatment and less incarceration for veterans.
Crist, a member of the Appropriations Committee, was able to secure $30 for the establishment of the Veterans Treatment Courts in the Commerce, Justice, Science funding bill that passed the House last week.
“I am excited that the legislation includes $30 million for Veteran Treatment Courts that provide treatment instead of jail time for Veterans facing the criminal justice system,” he said last week following the passage of the Appropriations bill.
“Veterans who use medical marijuana to treat their injuries should also not be denied federal employment or lose their jobs. With this bill, we press federal agencies to eliminate that barrier to being hired or holding a federal job.”
The Department of Justice issued a study in 2015 that indicated that the percentage of veterans as a proportion of the prison population has declined from 25% to 9% between the periods of 1978 and 2012.
Crist has prioritized the Veterans Treatment Court and other veterans issues during his current term.
When he introduced the court bill last year, he said, “Our district is blessed to be home to 70,000 veterans. I can think of no greater call than serving those who served. This means working across the aisle on a bipartisan basis to improve the VA, expand benefits, and get Pinellas County veterans the care they deserve.”
Crist has also sponsored legislation that would deliver benefits more quickly to Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.