As we begin a new year, officials in Ocean County are kicking off a new program this week to help veterans facing mostly minor charges avoid the criminal justice system, and get the mental help treatment they need.

(nebari, ThinkStock)

According to Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Rene White, some of the individuals in the program may be facing a weapons possession or road rage charge and, “many of these cases are assault related, just threats in general, terroristic threats.”

She pointed out unfortunately many veterans returning home struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and may be comfortable carrying weapons.

“Cases involving weapons will be looked at on a case by case individual basis, obviously that’s to ensure community safety,” she said.

White also said individuals with mental health issues are not the same, “everyone comes to the table with their own support systems or lack thereof, and the kinds of resources they need to get back on their feet will vary.”

She added clinicians from community based mental health service agencies in Ocean County will be utilized to make determinations on which candidates are appropriate for the program, since “unfortunately some people are just not appropriate, they’re too sick for a diversion type program.”

Once a candidate is deemed to be legally appropriate for the program, they must be found to be clinically appropriate as well, and then the individual must agree to participate in a program specially tailored to their needs.

According to White, part of the legal clearance that’s involved in the program is that cases will not be taken that have not been signed off by the victims involved.

“That’s really again to ensure that we are always looking out for the rights of the victims, we’re always trying to be supportive of victims,” she said. “If a victim is not in favor of program entry, then simply the process will be stopped there at that legal evaluation stage.”

White said Ocean County has a high population of veterans and a large demographic that has chosen to retire locally, so there is a need to get in front of the problem.

“I think if we take action now, hopefully it will avoid individuals not being able to become productive members of society,” she said. “If we give them the treatment that’s needed, hopefully not only will they not return to the criminal justice system, but our hope is that they will actually become productive members of society and actually thrive.”

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