VA Secretary Hails Success of Veterans Courts

Retired General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, discusses the VA's support for Veterans Treatment Courts during the inaugural Justice For Vets Veterans Treatment Court conference at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on Monday, December 2, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for The National Association of Drug Court Professionals)

Retired General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, discusses the VA’s support for Veterans Treatment Courts during the inaugural Justice For Vets Veterans Treatment Court conference at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on Monday, December 2, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for The National Association of Drug Court Professionals)

Florida lawmakers joined a growing trend last year when they allowed the establishment of Veterans Courts if approved by the chief judge of the circuit. But some Florida judges were already dealing with veterans issues separately on their daily dockets.

The success of Veterans courts was noted this week by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki at an inaugural conference for Veterans Treatment Courts held by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals  in Washington D.C.

Part of Shinseki’s speech:

For Veterans entering the justice system who are already dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues, we have established Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO)—172 full-time specialists, working directly with justice officials, to see that Veterans who are before the court or already in jail get the care they need and that courts are supported in their consideration of best possible alternatives to incarceration. We are also working to connect our VJO specialists with American Indian tribal justice systems to do the same thing.

In their first year, 2010, VJO specialists served 5,800 Veterans. This year, that number is up to nearly 36,000 Veterans, and we plan to hire another 75 specialists next year.

The core of the Veterans Treatment Courts is first the judge who is familiar with issues some veterans struggle with like traumatic brain injury and PTSD and it offers a team approach for defendant to receive support and services from veterans groups, VA specialists and social support experts.

Find more information and a map of available Veterans Courts here. The complete transcript of the Secretary’s speech is available here.

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VA Grant to Pay for Homeless Veterans Housing in St. Pete

On average there will be an additional 25 more beds available for homeless veterans in Pinellas County thanks to a new, VA grant awarded to the Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The award of $1,064,886 to the Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg, Inc. is one of 38 projects around the country that will provide temporary housing to formerly homeless Veterans with the goal that they will retain the residence as their own.

“As we drive toward our goal to end homelessness among Veterans in 2015, VA continues to find innovative ways to permanently house Veterans who were formerly homeless,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki stated in a press release. “Under President Obama’s leadership, we have made incredible strides in creating programs to aid these brave men and women who have served our Nation so well.”

The grant is part of a special program that focuses on Veterans who traditionally have had to  move out of provided housing when they completed substance abuse counseling, job training or mental health services.

The “Transition in Place” model closes the gaps in available housing for the nation’s most vulnerable homeless Veterans with substance use and mental health problems according to the release.

“Our focus is creating a team of community support — pairing a variety of services, such as mental health support, employment assistance and job training — with the essential component of housing,” Lisa Pape, national director of homeless programs for the VA’s health care system, in the release. She oversees the program.

If you know a homeless Veteran or one at risk, refer them to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans, 1-877-4AID-VET.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games Open

A Veteran demonstrates how Slalom is done at the 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games kickoff ceremony Monday. It includes 17 different sports that promote rehabilitation through rigorous competition among Veterans. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

More than 500 of America’s best wheelchair athletes, all disabled U.S. military Veterans are set to compete in the 32nd annual Veterans Wheelchair Games.

The events are being held in Richmond, VA this year. The competition will be hosted in Tampa, FL in 2013.

“The Games display to the world what we already know about these Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki in a news release. “At this competition and during their rehabilitation throughout the year, they show the same determination and grit that they showed during their service to our Nation.”

The Games are presented yearly by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). The National Veterans Wheelchair Games started in Richmond, VA in 1981 with the motto is ‘Thus do we reach the stars.’

Secretary Eric Shinseki speaks with a Veterans at the 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which are taking places from June 25- June 30 in Richmond, Virginia. Photographer: Ken Holt. Photo Courtesy Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

The first Games featured 74 Veterans from 14 states competed in sports ranging from table tennis and billiards, to swimming and weightlifting.

Results from the various events are available HERE.

For the third year, stand-up events will be held in archery and table tennis for athletes who have amputations and choose to compete using prosthetic devices instead of their wheelchairs.

Kids day at the games is scheduled Wednesday, June 28, where local children with disabilities will meet the athletes and learn about wheelchair sports.

Admission to the Games is free to the public, and the community is encouraged to attend. Veterans competing in the games come from nearly every state, as well as Puerto Rico and Great Britain.

Tampa is the selected site for the 2013 National Veterans Wheelchair Games on July 13-18, 2013. The James A. Haley Veterans Hospital and the Florida Gulf Coast and Central Florida Chapters of Paralyzed Veterans of America will host the events.

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