New Jersey's 7th Legislative District

Senator Diane Allen

Senator Diane Allen

Passed: Allen Bill Creating Pre-Trial Program for Veterans Coping With Mental Illness

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Legislation sponsored by Senator Diane Allen (R-Burlington) to provide greater support for veterans struggling with addiction or mental illness was passed in a 36-0 vote by the New Jersey Senate.

Sen. Diane Allen’s bill will help veterans coping with mental illness. (©iStock)

“The horror of battle can lead to serious mental health complications later in life like PTSD and depression,” Senator Allen said. “If these combat-related afflictions lead to some kind of criminal behavior, the person should have a chance to get the treatment they need rather than just sit in jail. Veterans have made so many sacrifices to preserve our freedoms. We need to give them a chance to get the help they need, and they aren’t going to get that by sitting in a jail cell.”

The bill, S-307, establishes a statewide Veterans Diversion Program to divert active duty service members and veterans away from the criminal justice system as early as possible following an interaction with law enforcement. The purpose is to increase access to screening, counseling, treatment and case management for mental health issues, substance abuse and co-occurring health disorders.

If a criminal complaint is filed, the courts would now have the ability to postpone court proceedings while an eligible service member participates in mental health intervention services.  If, after a minimum of six months, the prosecutor is satisfied that the service member is making progress and has complied with the terms of the agreement, the prosecutor can move for the dismissal of all criminal charges.

Currently, the courts utilize the Veterans Assistance Project to identify veterans who enter the criminal justice program and provide referrals to various community services or mentors. However, a referral without clear direction on how to access services could still leave many veterans in need.

“This program will help divert veterans to treatment at the very first moment of contact with law enforcement,” Senator Allen said. “We want to get more veterans to sit down with a counselor instead of stand in front of a judge.”

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