New Jersey Judiciary Veterans Assistance Project

The Veterans Assistance Project (VAP) is a voluntary referral service for veterans who come in contact with the court system and who may be in need of veterans services from their local Veterans Service Office. The goal is to acquire services and support to improve the quality of life for the men, women, and families who have made sacrifices in the defense of the United States. Available services can include mental health counseling, addiction services, legal services, and housing.

Highlights

  • The project targets court-involved persons who have served in the military.
  • It is a collaborative effort involving the Judiciary, the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA), and the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).
  • The Judiciary component offers voluntary identification and referral to one of 16 state veterans services offices (VSOs).
  • The project has been spearheaded by the criminal division.
  • The Judiciary began a county-by-county rollout in December 2008.
  • The project now operates statewide.
    The Adjutant General shall develop and coordinate a volunteer-based program comprised of former service members to assist and mentor veterans who become involved with the criminal justice system. In addition, the Adjutant General shall develop a registry of volunteer mentors and make the registry available.

Statewide Referrals since Inception = 4,520 (as of 10/01/2021)

Facts

  • DMAVA estimates that, as of Sept. 30, 2021, there were 328,958 veterans in New Jersey, of which 28,074 were women.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has identified substance use disorders as one of the three most common diagnoses amongst veterans, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury in second and third place.
  • The January 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that approximately one out of six veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have a substance use disorder.
  • A Veterans Health Administration National Center for PTSD fact sheet reports that PTSD symptoms can indirectly lead to criminal behavior or through direct linkage of a traumatic incident to a specific crime.
  • 19 percent of the veterans who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly 300,000 people, reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.
  • The Survey of Inmates in Local Jails reports that 9.3 percent of people incarcerated in jails are veterans.
  • The primary offense for 70 percent of incarcerated veterans was a non-violent crime, and 45 percent had served two or more state prison sentences.
  • At minimum, 90,000 of the 9 million unique inmates annually released from U.S. jails are veterans. A large majority (82 percent) are eligible for VA services, having been discharged either under honorable (65 percent) or general with honorable (17 percent) conditions.

Overview

The New Jersey Veterans Assistance Project is a combined effort of the Judiciary, DMAVA, and DMHAS, to connect service members who come into contact with the courts and who need help with existing community services as well as mentors to address those issues.

It is not a diversionary program. The project is geared toward identifying veterans who have come into contact with the courts and referring them for available services. The referral is voluntary.

The project also involves a mentoring component that is being developed by the Adjunct General. During the assessment process, the local veterans service officer will determine whether the veteran could benefit from assignment of a mentor. If so, and if a mentor can be identified pursuant to the list developed by the Adjunct General, one will be assigned.

Collaboration

DMAVA provides a range of programs, assistance and support services to veterans and their families. DMAVA operates 16 VSOs that help veterans access federal and state benefits to which they may be entitled. For this project, once a veteran has been identified in the court system and volunteers to participate, the local VSO is notified and assists in identifying and providing the services needed by the veteran.

DMHAS is the state mental health authority that oversees and has primary responsibility for funding the public adult mental health system. In addition to various psychiatric hospitals and units, the division has contracts with more than 120 not-for-profit community providers. For this project the DMHAS and its service providers assist in identifying veterans and providing mental health services for those veterans in need of such services.

The cooperation of municipal prosecutors and public defenders, county jail personnel, health service providers, and superior court public defenders and prosecutors is also crucial. Each of these entities assists in identifying veterans and recognizing the need for services.

History of the Program

In 2008, the New Jersey Judiciary piloted the VAP in the Municipal Court and Superior Court Criminal Divisions in the Atlantic and Union counties. Within the first year, three additional counties had implemented the project and five others were in the planning stages.

The pilot project was designed to identify veterans as soon as possible after they entered the criminal justice system and when needed, provide referrals to the local VSO to connect those veterans to community resources to address the unique services they need. Those services could include a thorough assessment, identification of specific military entitlements, referrals for individual and family counseling, medical and legal assistance, educational and vocational training aid, and other community services.

The intention was to connect defendants with services to which they are entitled and to help alleviate negative factors that may have contributed to their involvement in the criminal courts.

Soon after the pilots in Atlantic and Union began, the Judiciary recognized that the VAP could be accessible to other court-involved veterans. Counties that were creating VAP planning teams and hosting meetings included representatives from the civil, family, municipal, and probation divisions. Today, the project is statewide and operates in all 21 counties.

Process for Linking Veterans to Services

Veterans are identified at the earliest possible point as they enter the court system. There are multiple points at which a referral to a local VSO can be initiated. For example, self-identification as a veteran is solicited when persons enter county jails, municipal and superior courts, and as existing probationers report to the probation department. Once a veteran has self-identified, a referral to the VSO can be prepared if the veteran volunteers to participate. Completed referral forms are directed to the criminal division, where the referral is entered into the VAP database and then electronically sent to the local VSO.

Management and Coordination

The Criminal Practice Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts provides programmatic support and assistance in the planning, implementation and operation of the VAP and collects and maintains monthly statistics that reflect the number of unique referrals forwarded to the local VSOs by each county. Each vicinage criminal division manager and staff provides local project management and coordination.

References

Bouffard, L.A. (May 2003). Examining the Relationship Between Military Service and Criminal Behavior During the Vietnam Era: A Research Note.Criminology. Beverly Hills: May 2003. Vol. 41, Iss. 2; pg. 491, 20 pgs. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from
http://proquest.umi.com.proxy1.ncu.edu/pqdweb/?index=0&did=546211981&SrchMode=2&sid=3&Fmt=4&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1241036021&clientId=52110

Mumola, CJ. And Noonan, M.E. May, 2007. Veterans in State and Federal Prison, 2004. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. NCJ 217199. Retrieved on January 5, 2011 from
https://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/vsfp04.pdf

The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (2014). State of New Jersey Veterans Population by County and Locations of DMAVA Veterans Service Offices. Public Affairs Office, September 30, 2014.

New Jersey Veterans Guide (2006). Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Trenton, NJ
https://www.nj.gov/military/veterans/services/vso/

Pandiana, J. A., Rosenheck, R., Banks, S.M. (June 2003). Elevated Risk of Arrest for Veteran’s Administration Behavioral Health Service Recipients in Four Florida Counties. Law and Human Behavior. Jun 2003; 27, 3; Criminal Justice Periodicals, pg. 289. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from
http://proquest.umi.com.proxy1.ncu.edu/pqdweb/?index=0&did=331767351&SrchMode= 2&sid=4&Fmt=10&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=12410365 15&clientId=52110

Rand Center for Military Health and Policy Research (April 17, 2008). Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery. Rand Corporation. Santa Monica, CA. Retrieved on May 8, 2009 from
http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG720/

U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (2002). Survey of Inmates in Local Jails. Conducted by U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Retrieved on May 7, 2010 from
https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=274bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/vpj.pdf

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (November 6, 2008). The NSDUH Report: Major Depression Episode and Treatment for Depression among Veterans Aged 21 to 39. Rockville, MD.
https://samhsa.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (November 1, 2007). The NSDUH Report: Serious Psychological Distress and Substance Use Disorder among Veterans. Rockville, MD.
https://samhsa.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (November 10, 2005). The NSDUH Report: Alcohol Use and Alcohol-Related Risk Behaviors among Veterans. Rockville, MD.
https://samhsa.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (November 10, 2005). The NSDUH Report: Substance Use, Dependence, and Treatment among Veterans. Rockville, MD.
https://samhsa.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (November 11, 2004). The NSDUH Report: Male Veterans with Co-Occurring Serious Mental Illness and a Substance Use Disorder. Rockville, MD
https://samhsa.gov