Before their engagement in the Armed Forces of the United States, most veterans had never been involved with the criminal justice system. Many of these men and women return to our shores plagued by demons from their wartime and service experiences.
Because of what they have seen and done during their deployment in a combat zone, too many self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs in an attempt to assuage their demons and deal with a society they feel neither accepts nor understands them. And some wind up butting heads with the criminal justice system.
This is a reality, not only for the two-and-a-half million “war fighters” who have deployed, some of them several times, to the mountains of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq, but for those who donned the uniform in previous generations.
By investing in veteran-specific projects, perhaps we can help justice-involved veterans by fostering change in the ways the criminal justice system appreciates how the lingering legacy of combat contributes to their criminal behaviors and descent into the legal system. (Veterans Treatment Courts: A Second Chance for Vets Who Have Lost Their Way, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections, May 2016/Accession Number 13CS20A001)
New Jersey is joining dozens of other states that seek to divert nonviolent veterans with mental health challenges from the criminal justice system into a network of treatment and support services.
To help ease the situation in the Garden State, the “Veterans Diversion Program,” was created to direct state officials to work with their federal counterparts on a system designed to connect eligible service members with appropriate behavioral healthcare, instead of sending them to jail. The program links vets with existing services so they can get screening, counseling, and other treatment.
Upon completion of the program, which can take up to two years, veterans can have their criminal case dismissed and their arrest record expunged.
The voluntary veterans program is open to active and retired members of the military, including the reserves, who had been accused of nonviolent crimes and diagnosed with a mental illness, or have demonstrated such symptoms to law enforcement, friends, or family members.