FREEHOLD, NJ — Military service members who are charged with minor crimes may be eligible for mental health and substance abuse treatment, rather than serving jail time, under a program launched by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.

The county’s new Veterans Diversion Program (VDP) is designed to provide mental health and rehabilitative treatment to active and retired service members who are charged with certain offenses — as long as the mental condition is related to their military service. In return for successful completion of the program, these military members would not have to face traditional criminal prosecution.

“We have a moral obligation to our veterans and service members. They return home after long tours of duty in war zones with unseen wounds and issues related to their combat experiences. They can turn to drugs and crime in their efforts to cope,” said Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni. “They need our compassion — something they have surely earned — to make a difference in their lives, instead of convictions and jail sentences.”

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The county’s program comes on the heels of a new statewide VDP initiative that takes effect in December, which establishes a framework for the state to develop a process for connecting eligible service members with mental health and support services. New Jersey is joining a growing number of states that work in cooperation with the federal Department of Veteran Affairs in establishing VDPs.

In Monmouth County, the prosecutor’s office will administer the program, which involves screening and approving veterans for admission, and then intensively monitoring and supervising their treatment. Each veteran is assigned a volunteer mentor as well.

While veterans charged with nonviolent third- or fourth-degree crimes are eligible for participation, service members charged with other offenses may be considered, if there are "sufficient and compelling circumstances surrounding the criminal incident to warrant diversion," according to the prosecutor’s office.

Veterans enrolled in the program are expected to regularly attend counseling and, where applicable, receive mental health or substance abuse treatment in accordance with VDP conditions.

Veterans who successfully complete the program, have not been charged with any subsequent crimes and continue to make progress with treatment will have their charges dismissed and the underlying charge expunged.

“The program we have developed here in Monmouth gives prosecutors greater flexibility to admit worthy servicemen and servicewomen for diversion, providing them access to appropriate mental health treatment and rehabilitative services, rather than incarceration,” Gramiccioni said.

In order to ensure that all potentially eligible veterans are considered for VDP, law enforcement officers throughout Monmouth County have been instructed to question persons under arrest whether they serve or have served in the military, and to make an appropriate notation on the criminal complaint.

Attorneys who believe their clients may be appropriate for the program should contact Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Michael J. Wojciechowski at 732-431-7160 ext. 7184, or mwojciechowski@mcponj.org.

 

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