PORTLAND, ME – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today joined local veterans and veteran advocates at American Legion Post 153 in Auburn to discuss the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) announcement, made last week, that it will fund three new positions in Maine to better serve the needs of justice-involved Maine veterans confronting homelessness, mental health, or substance abuse issues. The funding will support a Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Specialist, a Health Care for Re-entry Veterans (HCRV) coordinator, and a specialist focused on veteran suicide prevention.
“Hearing from veterans who have seen the value of the Veterans Justice Program firsthand is a powerful testament to the program’s importance and once again underscores our collective responsibility to care for the veterans who have cared for us,” Senator King said. “These new positions in our home state will strengthen outreach efforts to Maine veterans and support them in a time of need. I am grateful to the veterans, mentors, and advocates who joined the conversation this morning and look forward to working together to help our veterans and support our community.”
Included in the conversation were graduates of the Maine Co-Occuring Disorders and Veterans Court, Veterans Mentors of Maine, and founder of the first Maine veterans court Justice Nancy Mills. Participants in the Maine Co-Occuring Disorders and Veterans Court, which works in cooperation with the Veterans Justice Program, meet with a judge each week, meet multiple times a week with an assigned case manager, and attend intensive outpatient treatment. If a higher level of care is needed, referrals are made to residential facilities. Case managers assist participants in securing safe and affordable housing and accessing employment and educational opportunities.
In February, Senator King wrote to the VA urging the Department to fund a Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Specialist and a re-entry specialist as part of the Veterans Justice Program. At present, there is only one VJO Specialist in Maine.
The Veterans Justice Program aims to avoid the unnecessary criminalization of mental illness and extended incarceration of veterans by ensuring that they have timely access to VA services. The Veterans Justice Program includes both the Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) and the Health Care for Reentry Veterans programs and has seen widespread success. VJO specialists provide direct outreach, assessment, and case management for justice-involved Veterans in local courts and jails, while acting as a liaison with local justice system partners, and re-entry coordinators provide critical casework to veterans returning to society. About 440 Maine veterans have received services through the program since 2010.