MIDDLESEX COUNTY — A program to assist military veterans who enter the court system has begun in Middlesex 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 Middlesex County means that more veterans and their families who have sacrificed to defend our country will receive the services and support they need and deserve,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. “The Judiciary and other agencies are committed to addressing the special concerns of veterans who come into contact with the court system.”
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 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 addition of Middlesex County brings this vital program to a populous county with a large veteran population,” 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. “We are now closing in on our promise to take this program to every county.”
In Middlesex County, the criminal, municipal and probation divisions are participating in the program.
The Veterans Assistance Project began in Atlantic County in the municipal courts and in the criminal division of Superior Court in December 2008.
Middlesex County is the 18th county in New Jersey to participate in the project, joining Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex and Union counties.
More than 730 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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