A program to assist military veterans who enter the court system has begun in Mercer and Passaic counties.
The Veterans Assistance Project began in Mercer County on March 1 and in Passaic County on April 1. The initiative now exists in seven of New Jersey’s 21 counties.
The Veterans Assistance Project is a combined effort of the Judiciary, the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health Services, to provide referrals to existing community services as well as mentors for veterans.
The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will determine which veterans are assigned mentors. The mentors, active and retired veterans themselves, volunteer to work with defendants while their criminal cases are pending and afterward. They see that veterans receive assistance and try to help them avoid behaviors that may lead them back into the criminal justice system.
Some veterans return from military service with physical, mental or personal issues and may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to manage the stress of returning to civilian life.
The Veterans Assistance Project aims to connect service members who need help with existing programs and mentors to address those issues.
The Veterans Assistance Project was piloted in Atlantic County in the municipal courts and in the criminal division of Superior Court in December 2008. It was expanded to Union County in January 2009. Burlington County and Cape May counties joined the program in August 2009 and Morris County joined in December 2009.
More than 190 referrals have been made in those counties since the program began.
The program is geared toward providing services to veterans, not diverting veterans from the courts. Veterans who are charged with indictable and non-indictable offenses, other than minor traffic matters, as well as veterans who are on probation, are eligible to participate in the program.
A video about the Veterans Assistance Project can be found at youtube.com/njcourts