A program to assist military veterans who enter the court system has expanded into Cumberland, Monmouth, Ocean and Salem 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.
Cumberland and Salem counties’ participation in the Veterans Assistance Project is a coordinated effort across the court’s operating divisions that will include liaisons from the criminal, family, municipal and probation divisions.
In Ocean County, the civil; criminal; family; finance; general operations; municipal and probation divisions and the Office of the Ombudsman are participating in the program.
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 is in operation in 16 of New Jersey’s 21 counties.
The program 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; Essex; Gloucester; Mercer; Morris; Passaic; Sussex and Union counties.
More than 400 referrals have been made 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 www.youtube.com/njcourts.