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For immediate release: August 3, 2009
For more information contact:
At the Judiciary: Winnie Comfort or Tammy Kendig 609-292-9580
At DMAVA: Maj. Yvonne Mays, 609-530-6939 or 609-847-6093 (cell)
Kryn P. Westhoven 609-530-6950 or 609-847-2215 (cell)

Veterans Assistance Project Begins in Cape May County

A pilot program to assist military veterans who enter the court system has expanded into Cape May County.

The Veterans Assistance Project, first announced last December by chief Justice Stuart Rabner, 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 include Cape May County in the Veterans Assistance Project," Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. "The program has been well-received in Atlantic County, where it was piloted last year, so it made sense for us to extend it to neighboring Cape May County."

"The Veterans Assistance Project will provide veterans who have made sacrifices in defense of this nation with volunteer mentors, a critical component of the program, and other services and support they deserve," Chief Justice Rabner said.

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 case is pending and afterward. They see that veterans receive assistance and try to head off the veteran's return to the criminal justice system on another offense.

"Adding Cape May County is important because it adds to the universe of veterans who can be helped by the program," 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 expansion into Cape May County also has great symbolic value because it adjoins Atlantic County, the place where we launched this program last year," Maj. Gen Rieth said. "The continuing expansion demonstrates our commitment to ultimately bring this program to every county in the state."

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 2008 and was expanded to Union County in February. Burlington County joined the program this month.

A total of 81 veterans in Atlantic County and 40 veterans in Union County have been referred from the courts to the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

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.

"There has been overwhelming support from advocates in the Cape May County area," said Jody Chase, Assistant Criminal Division manager for Cape May County. "I expect the program to be a complete success."

Videos about the Veterans Assistance Project can be found at youtube.com/njcourts and at www.judiciary.state.nj.us/atlantic/mtc.htm

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