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Troubled vets in Conn. may get more help readjusting

NEW HAVEN - As thousands of troops return from war to Connecticut, lawmakers have approved a measure that would give veterans a second chance to avoid prosecution or prison when they commit a minor crime.

The House and Senate voted unanimously in recent weeks to pass legislation allowing veterans to use the Accelerated Rehabilitation program twice, rather than just once. The jail diversion program is for people accused of crimes such as reckless driving, street racing, larceny, and running from the police.

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The bill also broadens eligibility for two other pretrial diversionary programs for people with psychiatric disabilities and drug problems. It would allow participation by veterans who have a mental health condition amenable to treatment, rather than meeting the definition of a psychiatric disability, and allow court officials to refer veterans to drug treatment programs at veteran facilities.

“This bill is incredibly important both for the veterans and their families whose lives will be changed and also for the people of the state of Connecticut who have the opportunity to help veterans who served our country ease back into civilian life,’’ said Margaret Middleton, executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center.

The bill would save the state up to $3.5 million over the next three years because treatment is cheaper than incarceration and because the federal Veterans Administration can provide much of the treatment, supporters said.

A spokesman would not say whether Governor Dannel P. Malloy plans to sign the bill.

“The governor is glad to see the Legislature continuing to address the needs of our veterans,’’ said David Bednarz. “He will have his legal staff review the final language once the bill arrives on his desk.’’

About 16,000 Connecticut veterans have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and many are coming home as a result of withdrawing troops from the wars, officials said. About 1,000 would probably benefit annually from the bill, supporters say.

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