AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that expands Kennebec County’s Veterans Treatment Court program to other counties in the state.
Now the bill goes to Gov. Paul LePage for his signature.
The veterans court program takes a team approach to dealing with veterans who commit crimes or become addicted to drugs. The Augusta-based program is open to any newly returned veteran in the state but can be difficult for those living farther away to use. The program operates in conjunction with the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, which accepts people with dual diagnosis of mental health and substance abuse problems.
Those in the veterans court are mentored by other veterans and work closely with the VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus.
Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, the bill’s primary sponsor, said her measure would provide money to allow veterans courts to slowly expand to other parts of Maine.
“I want to thank lawmakers for these strong, bipartisan votes recognizing that we have to do more to help these veterans rebuild their lives,” Fowle said in a news release from the House Democratic Office. “The Veterans Treatment Court is already achieving success, and this bill will ensure that success continues.”
The bill funds a part-time prosecutor’s position for the Kennebec County veterans court and directs Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney to report by the end of the year on the performance of the veterans court and the best location for expansion.
Maloney was a legislator in 2012 when she sponsored a bill helping to create the veterans court.
Conditions for admission to the program are a guilty plea to the offenses, plus a commitment to meet rigorous requirements involving treatment, counseling and reporting to the court.
Veterans and law enforcement officials spoke in favor of Fowle’s bill during a public hearing in February.
“Veterans treatment courts are a proven national best practice and are part of a coordinated support system determined to bring recovery for our heroic veterans,” said Kennebec County Sheriff Randy Liberty, an Iraq War veteran who served in Fallujah. Liberty, who was instrumental in the early success of Augusta’s veterans court, was the subject of an MPBN documentary “A Matter of Duty,” which documented veterans’ struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and depicted the veterans court in action. The first two veterans completed the program in September 2013.
Fowle said the bill saves the state in incarceration costs and allows rehabilitated veterans to become productive members of society. Others testifying in favor of the bill included Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta; Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant; chairman of the Maine Board of Corrections Mark Westrum; and Maloney.
Fowle is a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and represents Vassalboro, Windsor and part of Augusta.