FREEHOLD – Monmouth County veterans who are charged with nonviolent crimes but suffering from a mental illness related to their military service are getting a second chance, thanks to a program recently launched by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
The Veterans Diversion Program (VDP) aims to tackle the underlying mental health and substance abuse issues that some veterans face, challenges that may have led them to commit the criminal acts they are being charged with in the first place.
The VDP allows active and former military service members charged with third or fourth degree crimes to bypass traditional criminal prosecution and instead undergo mental health and rehabilitative treatment. After being approved into the program by the Prosecutor’s Office, veterans will be expected to attend regular counseling and receive mental health or substance abuse treatment, if necessary. It involves rigorous supervision and monitoring of that veteran’s treatment by the health provider, Veterans Administration and Prosecutor’s Office. Veterans would also be assigned a volunteer mentor to provide support and guidance during treatment.
The goal is for these veterans is to successfully complete the program, make substantial progress in their mental health or substance abuse issues, and ultimately have their criminal charges dismissed and the underlying charge expunged.
“We have a moral obligation to our veterans and service members. They return home after long tours of duty in warzones with unseen wounds and issues related to their combat experiences. They can turn to drugs and crime in their efforts to cope. They need our compassion – something they have surely earned – to make a difference in their lives instead of convictions and jail sentences,” Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said.
The Veterans Diversion Program is modeled off of other, similar programs for veterans throughout the country, such as one in Buffalo, New York called C.O.U.R.T.S., which screens and diverts nonviolent veteran drug offenders to treatment facilities instead of jail.
Prosecutor Gramiccioni has urged law enforcement officers across Monmouth County to question arrestees and find out if they are active or former service members in an effort ensure all eligible veterans are being considered for the program.
Although third and fourth degree non-violent offenders will be the primary recipients of the VDP, veterans charged with other offenses may also be approved if the prosecutor feels the circumstances of their criminal act warrants diversion.
Any attorney who feels they have clients who would be eligible for this diversion program should reach out to Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Michael J. Wojciechowski at 732-431-7160, ext. 7184 or [email protected].