Bill would redirect offending veterans to treatment programs to properly address mental health issues that often lead to criminal behavior
(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday released legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bob Andrzejczak, Vince Mazzeo, Bruce R. Land, Cleopatra Tucker and Dan Benson to send veterans suffering from mental illness, who have committed a non-violent crime, to a treatment program, instead of the criminal justice system where they are unlikely to receive treatment.
According to Justice for Vets, one in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment, and one in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance abuse issue. The sponsors believe treatment would better serve these veterans and the public by reducing the likelihood of recidivism.
“The wounds of war are not just physical. Many soldiers return home with mental trauma that, when untreated, puts them and others at risk,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “These veterans need mental health services, not jail. We owe it to them, and the public to ensure that we are treating those veterans with mental health issues so that they are not a danger to themselves or others.”
“Jail should not be the first recourse for veterans whose transgressions can be linked to an untreated mental illness,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “These veterans sacrificed themselves to protect our country. They deserve treatment, not punishment.”
“Untreated mental illness and criminal behavior often go hand in hand,” said Land (D–Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “We have a moral obligation to get these veterans the help they need, so they can return to some type of normalcy and not become a public safety hazard.”
“Sending a veteran suffering from mental health issues to jail does not address the root of the problem,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “We can either treat the problem, or deal with the consequences of a mental illness gone unchecked. Our veterans and the public deserve better.”
“Veterans who put themselves on the line for this country and are now suffering for it deserve our empathy, not a rush to judgement,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We only need to look at recent events to see how dangerous an untreated mental illness can be.”
The bill (A-4362) establish a statewide Veterans Diversion Program to divert eligible service members who have committed certain offenses away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate case management and mental health services.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.