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Veterans Assistance Project Begins in Mercer County

For immediate release: Mar. 1, 2010
For further information contact:
At the Judiciary: Winnie Comfort or Tammy Kendig 609-292-9580
At DMAVA: Maj. Yvonne Mays, 609-530-6939
Kryn P. Westhoven 609-530-6950

A program to assist military veterans who enter the court system has expanded into Mercer 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 see the Veterans Assistance Project expand into Mercer County and to continue our work with other agencies to address the needs of veterans who come into contact with the criminal justice system,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. “Veterans and their families have made sacrifices in defense of this nation, and we should provide them with the services and support they need, including mentors, to discourage them from committing another offense.”  
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.

“The expansion of this program to Mercer County ensures that our veterans’ community in the capital region will be well served,” 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 addition of Mercer County also demonstrates that we are on our way to fulfilling our commitment to ultimately bring this vital service to veterans in need in every county in New Jersey,” 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 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

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