A bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bob Andrzejczak, Cleopatra Tucker and Daniel Benson to create a mentorship program to assist veterans who have become involved in the criminal justice system is now law.
“Military service is honorable, but it can leave physical, mental and emotional scars that, without intervention, can make reintegration to civilian life difficult and lead veterans down the wrong path,” said Andrzejczak, (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland), a U.S. Army veteran who served and was wounded in Iraq. “This is not about making excuses, but rather recognizing that there may be some underlying issues at play that, if resolved, could help make a difference in the lives of these veterans.”
The law (A-4465) tasks the adjutant general of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs with assisting and mentoring veterans who enter the criminal justice system while their cases are pending and afterward.
“As a civilian, it’s hard to fathom the types of challenges that veterans, especially those who’ve served in combat zones, face when they re-enter civilian life,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “Our hope is that this law will help them access the necessary assistance to resolve the underlying problems that led or contributed to their involvement with the criminal justice system.”
Under the law, the adjutant general must 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 to secure housing, employment linkages, job training, education, transportation, disability compensation claims, discharge status, health care and other linkages available at the local state and federal level that can ease the challenge of reentry into civilian life.
“For some veterans, the stress brought on by experiences in the military may manifest itself in the form of drug abuse, violence or other behavior that ultimately may result in incarceration,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Our nation’s veterans are heroes, but they’re human. This program will offer the support and guidance they need as they work to overcome challenges that accompany re-entry into civilian life.”
The measure gained unanimous approval from both houses of the legislature.