In advance of the State of the Union address tonight, Sen. Joe Donnelly highlighted the need to help military veterans and praised the work being done in Indiana’s veterans courts.
The Hoosier Democrat said the federal government can bolster veterans courts by providing funding and promoting the expansion of the specialty court in all 92 Indiana counties. He maintained that every dollar spent in veterans courts gets returned many times over when the former service members get their lives back on track and are able to get jobs, pay taxes and be a part of their communities again.
Donnelly talked about veterans affairs and his other priorities with reporters Tuesday. Joining him for the press conference was Floyd Superior Court 3 Judge Maria Granger who will be the senator’s guest during the President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union.
Granger established the first veterans court in Indiana in 2011. Since then the number has grown to 15 with another nine more in the planning stages.
The goal of the specialty court, Granger said, is to fulfill the Indiana Constitution’s promise of restorative justice. She worked to start the veterans court in Floyd County after seeing veterans getting entangled with the criminal justice system because they were trying to use alcohol to cope with night terrors, post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries.
Granger said there is no place like home but for veterans returning from war with mental health and addiction issues, home can be a strange and scary place. In veterans courts, the offenders are provided a variety of services that address the root cause of the problem to help them change their behavior and get out of the criminal justice system.
Echoing Donnelly’s call for more funding, Granger said the veterans courts do not have a lot of extra resources and any help would be beneficial.
Another way Congress could help would be to address the prescription opioid problem among veterans. Granger has seen offenders come into her veterans court with addictions to pain killers that were given to them at the Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.
Her team has talked to the local veterans hospital at length about this issue, she said. The court defers to the treatment professionals but it does alert the doctors when a veteran has a drug problem.
Congress is starting to look at the problem of VA Hospitals overprescribing narcotics to veterans who come for care. Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana has proposed a measure that would require all Veterans Administration Medical Centers to participate in prescription drug monitoring programs.
Donnelly has championed getting mental health services to veterans, including co-authoring the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014. He has been working with the Veterans Administration to try to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions and he plans to work to make sure that military personnel have a seamless transition from the Department of Defense to the VA system so their medical care is not upended.