Veterans who commit crimes won't necessarily wind up behind bars, under legislation that's created New Jersey's new Veterans Diversion Program.

The law requires the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to work with federal officials and develop a state program that provides case management and mental health services to veterans who have committed certain offenses, rather than automatically putting them behind bars for certain offenses.

“It diverts the vet when they’ve committed a minor, non -iolent crime to get help,” said New Jersey State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, one of the prime sponsors of the legislation.

He said instead of just having that veteran locked up in a county prison “they would actually interact with the county VA system and get shelter or get job training or get medication or get help, psychological or psychiatric help."

He said only veterans that commit non-violent crimes are eligible for the program.

“If you’re guilty of an assault and battery, in other words you go home and beat the daylights out of your wife, you shoot somebody, this is not going to work for you," he said.

Van Drew said veterans deserve this kind of a program.

“They have seen things and felt things and gone through all sorts of situations that are beyond anything we could imagine,” he said.

Van Drew said he served many years ago as an intern in the Veterans Administration, so he knows firsthand about the struggles some veterans go through.

“There are men and women there with broken hearts, broken minds, broken spirits that really do need help,” he said. “They have been there to fight for us, to stand up for us, to save us. They do what they’re asked and we have to do more than just give a speech.”

Van Drew added speeches are wonderful, “but if you want to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk, and it’s about time our society did some real walking for our veterans.”

Assemblyman John Bramnick, one of the main sponsors of the measure in the Assembly, said the legislation is important because it allows a prosecutor to determine “whether or not someone’s service to our country had an adverse effect on his return to the country.”

“It simply gives the prosecutor an opportunity and the Judge, to consider that experience that put that veteran in a situation where maybe he made a mistake," Bramnick said.

Bramnick said the goal of the program is simple.

“All we’re saying is take a look at what happened to this veteran, look at his history, look what he did, Maybe there’s a diversionary program other than jail for somebody who served our country," he said.

The new law establishes a veteran’s diversion resource center in every New Jersey county to will provide screening, counseling and treatment to its members.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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