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VA ready to hire dozens more specialists to give legal help to veterans at medical centers

Maria Biery | Washington Examiner

The Veterans Affairs Department announced Tuesday that it is ready to hire an additional 50 outreach specialists to help veterans in the judicial system after President Trump signed into law Tuesday the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018.

The law requires the VA to hire the new specialists over the next year and then place them at VA medical centers in need of their services. They will help veterans impacted by the justice system while working in the Veterans Treatment Courts or other court focused on veterans.

“By signing this bill into law, President Trump is demonstrating VA’s commitment to supporting America’s Veterans, particularly those who may be navigating difficult chapters in their lives,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Since incarceration is often linked to homelessness, mental health issues and substance abuse, the VJO specialists will help facilitate these veterans’ access to numerous VA programs and resources.”

Fifty-three advocates were already hired in fiscal 2018. The additional 50 will increase the total number of specialist positions to more than 350.

Since 2009, when the veterans justice outreach specialist position was created, the program has served more than 184,000 veterans. Advocates assist veterans at the earlier stages of the criminal justice process where they "focus on outreach to community law enforcement, jails and courts," according to the Department of Veterans Affairs website. They also provide veterans with more information about assistance and benefits.

The author of the legislation, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said in a statement that the goal of this law is to provide "rehabilitation instead of incarceration" of veterans.

“Our veterans have served us, and now we need to do our part to make sure they can overcome some of the difficulties involved in adjusting to civilian life after the military,” he said.