Constituent Services
Congressman Higgins Announces Bill to Provide Federal Grants for Veteran Treatment Courts
October 21, 2008

Programs Modeled After Judge Russell’s Court in Buffalo Would be Eligible for Aid



Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) was joined by Acting Erie County Court Judge Robert Russell to announce the introduction of the SERV Act, a new bill in the House of Representatives which would provide federal grants to veteran treatment courts.  Congressman Higgins is an original cosponsor of the bill (HR 7149) introduced by Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy. 


“Veteran Treatment Courts provide service members who end up in the court system with a support network that can help set them on a better path,” said Congressman Higgins.  “Treatment courts like Judge Russell’s in Western New York are highly successful in reducing recidivism and ultimately saving taxpayer dollars.  The SERV Act would provide a solid investment in the future of our veterans.”


After noticing an increasing number of veterans coming through the court system, in January of this year Judge Russell established the first veteran’s treatment court in the nation.  The program in Buffalo, New York, is modeled after the existing mental health and drug court system which provides a strong emphasis on rehabilitation for non-violent offenders.  Judge Russell sees between 60 and 70 cases come through Buffalo’s Veterans Court each month. 


Buffalo Veterans Court partners include: VA Healthcare Network, US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Erie County and NYS Veterans Affairs, Veterans Homeless Program, Behavioral Health Treatment Providers of Erie County, and veteran’s support service organizations working as mentors.


“This legislation would support my goal to replicate the program we have here and provide opportunities for other jurisdictions to better service the veterans coming though their court systems,” added Judge Russell. 


The SERV Act (Services, Education and Rehabilitation for Veterans Act) would encourage the establishment and maintenance of veteran’s courts across the nation by providing federal matching grants to local communities.  Under the bill, $25 Million would be available annually between 2009 and 2014.  Veteran and Drug Courts serving veterans that integrate substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, mandatory drug testing, sanctions and incentives, and transitional services would be eligible to receive funding.


“Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to all of the veterans who put on the uniform and sacrificed for our nation.  The SERV Act honors that service by ensuring that no veteran will slip through the cracks of our criminal justice system.  Drug Courts offer a proven model of success for addressing the unique experiences of our service members,” said Congressman Patrick Kennedy.


“I commend Judge Russell for having the compassion and vision to explore new avenues for the courts to serve veterans in a more intensive and holistic way,” concluded Higgins.  


Statistics demonstrate funding for treatment courts produce an excellent return on the investment.  A New York State Center for Court Innovations evaluation of drug treatment courts concluded that there was a realized savings of $254M for New York State taxpayers (including reduction in incarcerations, welfare reduction, babies born clean/sober).  Oregon reports that for every $1 spent on Treatment courts there is a $10 savings realized.


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