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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
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Kryn P. Westhoven 609-530-6950 or 609-847-2215 (cell)

Veterans Assistance Project Begins in Burlington County

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

"The expansion of the Veterans Assistance Project into Burlington County is especially significant because the county is home to Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base, two of our nation's most important military installations," Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said.

"The Project provides our veterans, who have made extraordinary sacrifices in defense of this nation, with volunteer mentors who are a critical component of the program. With the mentors' assistance, the veterans receive the support and services they need," 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 and try to head off the veteran's return to the criminal justice system on another offense.

The Burlington judges and staff 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, civil, family and municipal divisions.

A large number of military personnel live in Burlington County, including active full-time military, active reservists and veterans. The Veterans' Assistance Project will assist all military personnel, not just veterans.

"Burlington County is critical because the military has such a large footprint there," 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 county is home to one of the state's largest concentration of veterans as well as the Fort Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst mega base and a half-dozen National Guard facilities," 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 to existing programs and to volunteer mentors. With help, they can address addiction issues, financial issues and court-related matters such as foreclosures and child custody.

Superior Court Judge John L. Call Jr., presiding judge of the family division, will serve as the vicinage's liaison and advisor for this initiative. Judge Call is a decorated U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War who served in the 101st Airborne Division and as an infantry officer.

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. Cape May 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, as are veterans who have matters in civil and family court.

The Burlington County Bar Association has designated a liaison to the project to assist with referrals to the New Jersey State Bar Foundation's "A Call to Service" veterans program.

A video about the Veterans Assistance Project can be found at youtube.com/njcourts

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