The General Assembly's Veterans Committee is considering a bill that could strengthen programs to keep veterans out of jail. Veterans who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars face a variety of challenges when they return home including physical and mental health issues.
"They're facing an incredibly uphill battle in terms of being employed and also just reconnecting with a community that really doesn't understand where they're coming from." Margaret Middleton is Executive Director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. "They cope with these difficulties by often times abusing substances and drinking and that leads to involvement with the criminal justice system." Middleton's legal center helps these veterans who get into trouble with the law. She says Connecticut has existing jail diversion programs for them but access is limited. So, she's advocating for a bill that would help even more veterans. It's Senate Bill 114 which would allow the federal and state Veteran Affairs, and the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to work with prosecutors on getting veterans increased access to supervised treatment instead of incarceration. And if veterans stay out of trouble for a certain amount of time, they can apply for accelerated rehabilitation and have the charges dismissed. Middleton says the bill's impact on the state budget would be negligible but it would make a huge impact on the lives of Connecticut veterans and their families.