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Veterans Assistance Project Starts in Bergen County

For immediate release: April 22, 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 started in Bergen 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.

“The expansion of the Veterans Assistance Project into the state’s largest county means that veterans and their families who have sacrificed in defending our country will receive the services and support they need and deserve,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. “The courts and other agencies are committed to addressing the special concerns of veterans who come into contact with the court system so they can get their lives back on track.”

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.

“We believe the expansion of this program into the state’s most populous county is a great opportunity to reach more veterans at a time when they need help the most,” 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. “Our previous work with veterans’ service organizations in Bergen County also demonstrates that the county has a robust network of veterans who are willing to help other veterans in need.”

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 Cape May, Burlington, Mercer, Morris, Passaic and Union counties.  

More than 230 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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