Assemblymen Sgt. Bob Andrzejczak and Vince Mazzeo have introduced legislation to provide certain veterans who suffer from mental illnesses with an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system.
The bill (A-3857) would establish a pre-trial intervention program for veterans in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties. The “Veterans Court Pilot Program” would divert veterans with mental illnesses who commit nonviolent crimes away from the criminal justice system and into the appropriate treatment.
“The unique experiences service members go through while in the military and away from their loved ones have the potential to lead to post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland), a U.S. Army veteran who was wounded in Iraq. “Many honorable veterans simply act out of character as they struggle – often alone – to deal with mental illnesses. This legislation acknowledges that, for a suffering veteran, what seems to be criminal activity actually may be a desperate cry for help.”
The court would hear cases involving veteran defendants charged with the commission of a nonviolent petty disorderly persons offense or a disorderly persons offense who suffer from a mental illness related to active duty during any military conflict or war. The program is a supplement to the Veterans Assistance Project of the Administrative Offices of the Courts, a pilot program to assist military veterans who enter the court system.
“For members of our armed forces, outstanding character and a strong sense of discipline are central to everyday life. When they return as veterans, dealing with PTSD and other mental health problems can be debilitating,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “Establishing a veterans court will help former members of the military get the treatment they need to take back their lives while giving them the respect they deserve for serving our nation.”
The bill was referred to the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.