Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bob Andrzejczak and Cleopatra Tucker to create a mentorship program to assist veterans who have become tangled up in the criminal justice system gained final passage from the full Assembly on Monday.
“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 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 bill (S-2972/A-4465), approved by a vote of 74-0, 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, Chair of the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee (D-Essex). “Our hope is that this bill 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 bill, the adjutant general would have to 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.
“A mentorship program led by former service members who they can relate to can help these veterans resolve those lingering issues and reintegrate into civilian life successfully,” added Andrzejczak. “This not only helps our veterans, but helps maintain public safety.”
The measure now heads to the governor’s desk.