A program to assist military veterans who enter the court system has started in Gloucester County.
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.
“We are pleased to expand the Veterans Assistance Project further into South Jersey with the addition of Gloucester County,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. “Veterans and their families have sacrificed much in defense of our country. The Judiciary, along with the governmental agencies and service organizations who have joined us, is helping veterans who have cases in court get the assistance they need.”
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.
Gloucester County’s participation in the Veterans Assistance Project will be a coordinated effort across all of the court’s operating divisions that will include liaisons from the criminal, family, municipal and probation divisions.
“Expansion of this critical program to Gloucester County illustrates the Department of Military Affairs’ commitment to supporting all veterans,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, the Adjutant General of New Jersey who oversees the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and serves as commander of the New Jersey National Guard.
“The department currently serves National Guard soldiers and their families in the county through the Woodbury Armory and the Woodbury Family Assistance Center. Expanding the Veterans Assistance Project into the county will allow the Department to assist other veterans at a critical juncture in their lives,” Maj. Gen. Rieth said.
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 also is in operation in Camden; Cape May, Bergen, Burlington, Mercer, Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Union counties.
More than 265 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.