Veteran transitioning to civilian life can be a challenge. Those challenges can be compounded by post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health issues, traumatic brain injuries and other physical injuries that are a result of their time in the service. For some, coping with these difficulties progresses to substance abuse or criminal activity. The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office has developed the Veterans Diversion Program (VDP), designed to assist individuals who have served in the U.S. Military and now have come into contact with the criminal justice system. If an individual is accepted into this program and successfully completes the program, it is possible for the individual to avoid a criminal conviction. VDP is a collaborative partnership between the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, local law enforcement agencies, veteran’s administrators, state and county agencies, volunteers, community-based organizations and medical treatment facilities to assist veterans in the criminal justice system.
A vital component of the VDP is to provide veterans with as much assistance and support as possible in order for them to have a chance of being healthy and successful. One area of need is in supportive relationships, such as a mentor. The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office is actively seeking peer mentors to support program-eligible service members through the criminal justice system, while also assisting in their individual treatment plans.
A mentor is intended to encourage, guide, and support the veteran mentee. Mentors should be good listeners and be willing to spend the time necessary to understand the concerns of the veteran mentee. Mentors do not need a legal background or experience, just an earnest desire to help a fellow veteran. Generally, mentors are expected to make weekly contact with their assigned veteran through a phone call or an in-person meeting. Mentors must be a veteran of one of the branches of the U.S. Military, including the Marine Corps, Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, or their corresponding Reserve or Guard branches. Training for mentors will be provided.
The CCPO VPD program currently has two trained mentors (and 2 participants enrolled) in the program. The VPD program is expected to grow as more eligible service members who have contact with the criminal justice system become aware and take advantage of this valuable diversionary program.
There is a FREE mentor-training class scheduled on May 7, 2020 from 8:30 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. at the Lawrenceville Armory located at 151 Eggerts Crossing Road in Lawrenceville NJ. Individuals who wish to volunteer as a mentor must complete an application, a background check and submit their DD214 verifying an honorable discharge or proof of being on active duty. To apply, please visit the State of New Jersey Department of Military and Veteran Affairs Website: https://www.nj.gov/military/veterans/diversion-program/#intro and complete the online application. A representative from the New Jersey Department of Military and Veteran Affairs will reach out to you with training information. Any questions regarding the Cumberland County VDP can be directed to Lt. Jasmin Calderon at (856)453-0486, ext. 11108 or Veterans@co.cumberland.nj.us.
It is our sincere hope that veterans in our community who meet the requirements, and have an interest in helping their fellow veterans, apply to be mentors so that the men and women who are determined to be eligible for the VDP have every tool they need to succeed.
**If this press release involves the charging, accusation or indictment of a criminal defendant, same is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.