Expansion of veteran treatment courts discussed

Members of the Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 5 on a bill that would expand the use of problem solving court programs.

LB915, introduced by Omaha Sen. John McCollister, would establish a three-year pilot project to create a veterans’ treatment problem-solving court program for any county in which a city of the metropolitan class is located. Douglas is the only county that currently would qualify.

McCollister said less than one percent of the U.S. population has served in the military, but veterans make up 20 to 30 percent of the prison population.

“Most veterans return home strengthened by combat experience,” he said. “However, that combat experience has left a growing number with substance abuse issues, mental health disorders or cognitive impairment.”

The problem solving court would be administered by the Nebraska Supreme Court, which would report to the Legislature on the program’s effectiveness after the conclusion of the pilot program. The court also would provide a recommendation whether to continue the court program or to expand it to other counties.

Scott Carlson, statewide coordinator of the Nebraska Supreme Court’s Problem-Solving Court, supported the bill.

“Veterans often face challenging experiences from their service, which can include substance abuse or mental health issues,” Carlson said. “Problem-solving courts are a proven and effective solution to address these issues and provide the tools necessary to [help veterans] lead a productive and law-abiding lifestyle.”

Eric Dillow, representing the Nebraska State Bar Association, also spoke in support of LB915. He said his experience as a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and military court judge has shown him the effectiveness of problem-solving courts.

“[Problem-solving courts] seek to tap into that part of a veteran that speaks to duty, honor, discipline and accountability,” he said. “[LB915] would allow us to intervene the moment veterans come into contact with the criminal justice system so their needs can be assessed and a treatment program can be developed.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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