Rep. Fowle’s Maine veterans court bill heads to governor’s desk

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

April 18th, 2014

The Maine Legislature gave final approval Thursday to a bill to support and expand Kennebec County’s successful Veterans Treatment Court program. With unanimous votes in both the House and the Senate, the measure now goes to Gov. Paul LePage for his signature.

The Veterans Treatment Court currently operates in Kennebec County and is open to any newly returned veteran in the state but may be difficult to access for veterans living farther away. Rep. Lori Fowle, the bill’s primary sponsor, said her measure would provide a stable source of funding that would 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,” said Fowle. “The Veteran’s Treatment Court is already achieving success, and this bill will ensure that success continues.”

The two-part bill would fund a part-time prosecutor to ensure that Kennebec County’s veterans court can continue on stable financial footing.

It would also direct Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Megan Maloney, who oversees the existing veterans court, to report back by the end of the year on the performance of the veterans court and the best location for expansion.

The veterans court program takes a team approach to dealing with veterans who commit crimes or become addicted to drugs.

Defendants must plead guilty. They must follow a strict, court-ordered treatment plan. They must take multiple drug tests, undergo counseling, file reports and receive mentoring from their fellow veterans.

Veterans and law enforcement officials spoke in favor of Fowle’s bill during the public hearing in February.

“Failure to [establish veterans treatment courts] will only mean that that our veterans will be warehoused until they are released and their cycle of untreated afflictions will continue,” said Kennebec County Sheriff Randy Liberty, an Iraq War veteran who served in Fallujah. “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.”

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 and depicted the veterans court in action. The first two participants graduated from the program in September 2013.

Fowle said the bill would save the state money, both because of the savings on incarceration costs and the benefit rehabilitated veterans would provide Maine as productive members of society. The cost is only one quarter as much as it does to incarcerate a veteran, especially one who would otherwise face many years in prison.

Others who testified in favor of the bill included Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, chair of the Maine Board of Corrections Mark Westrum, and Maloney.

Fowle, a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, is serving her first term in the Maine House and represents Vassalboro, Windsor and part of Augusta.