The Veterans Diversion Program is a program for eligible service members who are charged with certain offenses in the Superior Court or the municipal court and who suffer from mental illness.
Under the VDP, eligible veterans who are charged with certain non-violent crimes may be eligible for diversion to rehabilitative treatment in lieu of the traditional criminal justice process. The program involves intensive supervision and monitoring of a veteran’s treatment by an applicable treatment provider, the Veterans Administration (VA), this Office, and a volunteer mentor assigned to support the veteran. Participants must meet all diversion requirements to remain in the VDP, and the program must be successfully completed within two years from the date of diversion. Veterans admitted into the program are expected to regularly attend counseling and, where applicable, receive mental health or substance abuse treatment in accordance with VDP conditions. A veteran who successfully completes the terms and conditions of this program to the satisfaction of the Prosecutor, has not been the subject of any subsequent criminal charges, and continues to make progress with mental health and/or substance abuse treatment shall have his/her charges dismissed.
To be eligible for the VDP, the applicant must be an active or former member of the United States armed forces, and the charges must have some causal relation to their military service. The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office retains sole discretion over who is admitted into the VDP. Veterans charged with more serious, violent crimes will not be deemed eligible for VDP participation.
How Does Diversion Occur?
Upon arrest, a law enforcement officer must inquire whether the person is an active service member or has ever served in the armed forces of the United States. See NJ Veterans Diversion Statute. If the person is an active or former servicemember or claims to be an active or former servicemember, it must be noted on the complaint-summons or complaint-warrant charging the defendant with a crime. See NJ Veterans Diversion Statute.
A law enforcement officer, after consultation with the MCPO, may divert an eligible defendant in lieu of filing a complaint against that individual. However, the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute prohibits diversion in certain instances prior to the filing of a criminal complaint if the crime involves:
- Restitution for damages;
- Violence or the threat of violence;
- A violation of any restraining or protective order involving another person; or
- Where a victim of the offense objects to the diversion.
Diversion in this fashion may occur without the filing of criminal charges on the condition that the appropriate MCPO senior staff authorizes the decision.
In summary, diversion for an eligible defendant can occur before or after the filing of a criminal complaint under the restrictions and conditions set forth herein.
How Can Servicemember Status Be Verified?
Once a defendant claims current or former military service, it is incumbent upon him or her, with the assistance of counsel, where appropriate, to provide documentation or information that verifies such status. Typically, this will be presented in the form of a validly issued Common Access Card (CAC), DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, retired ID card, a government agency-issued Veterans Identification Card, or other acceptable documentary evidence indicating former service status.
What Offenses are Eligible for Diversion?
Ordinarily, any non-violent third or fourth degree crime, disorderly persons, or petty disorderly persons offense is eligible for diversion under this program. Servicemembers charged with other offenses may, depending on compelling circumstances surrounding the criminal offense and at the sole discretion of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, also be deemed eligible to participate in this program.
What Does an “Eligible” Defendant Mean?
Verification of a defendant’s current or former veteran status is the first step in determining eligibility for the VDP. After service is verified, a defendant must be deemed “eligible” for entry into the VDP. To be eligible, a defendant must have some mental illness or condition that may have caused or contributed to his or her commission of the offense. A “mental illness” is defined under the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute as “a mental disorder classified within the current version of the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and includes, but is not limited to, anxiety disorders, cognitive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, adjustment disorders, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders.
While a defendant may be deemed eligible for the VDP, the decision to accept the defendant into the program is at the sole discretion of the MCPO after considering a number of factors, including, but not limited to:
- The extent of the causative or contributory relationship between the person’s diagnosed or apparent mental illness and the commission of the offense;
- The amenability of the defendant to participating in the VDP conditions;
- The nature and circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense(s);
- The desires of any victim;
- The person’s history of prior convictions; and
- The likelihood that diversion will promote the person’s recovery, prevent future criminal behavior, and ensure public safety.
What Happens After an Eligible Defendant is Accepted into the VDP?
A defendant accepted into the VDP program shall agree in writing to a number of terms per the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute, in addition to conditions set forth by the MCPO herein. Specifically, a defendant must agree to:
- Participate in case management and mental health services through an applicable veterans diversion resource entity, and comply with any recommended course of treatment;
- Authorize any case management or treatment provider to release periodic status reports regarding the admitted defendant’s participation to the MCPO;
- Cooperate with case management service providers to procure housing, education and employment services, where appropriate;
- Pay restitution for damages resulting from the offense;
- Refrain from the use of alcohol or illegal narcotics, or frequent any place where such items are sold or used;
- Refrain from the possession or use of firearms or other weapons;
- Refrain from further criminal activity;
- Refrain from any contact with a victim of the offense;
- Cooperate with a designated mentor assigned by a veterans diversion resource entity;
- Suspend the tolling of time for purposes of the defendant’s right to a speedy trial while the defendant is participating in the VDP;
- Advise the MCPO of any change in address or change in case management or treatment provider; and
- Any other terms and conditions set forth by the MCPO in the interest of the defendant’s recovery and public safety.
In the VDP offered by the MCPO, the veterans’ diversion resource entity to be employed is a two-track model that must be undertaken by a defendant participating in the VDP. Failure to comply with any of the conditions of the VDP will result in removal from the VDP and resumption of prosecution via the traditional criminal justice process.
TRACK 1 – Participation in the Veterans Transition Initiative Program
Upon entry into the VDP, the admitted defendant will attend the next available Veterans Transition Initiative (“VTI”) Program seminar, a program designed to assist veterans, including those admitted to the VDP, who are in need of transition support. The seminar typically lasts three (3) days spanning a Friday evening through Sunday and is held at the Eagle Oaks Golf Course in Farmingdale, New Jersey. Participants gain access and assistance to resources in areas such as re-employment, housing, education, VA referral services, and a host of other county and state veteran services.
During the seminar, specialists will help participants further develop professional, personal and financial skills and traits to assist in the successful transition from military to civilian life. Participants will also engage in a number of introspective exercises to help identify and overcome issues and challenges that have may have hampered success in civilian life. Notably, participants will also be assigned a mentor during the seminar, a current or former service member who serves in a role similar to that of a “battle buddy.” This mentor will provide continuous, peer-to-peer personal and transitional support and social networking to the participating defendant through at least the entire course of the VDP process.
With respect to defendants participating in the VDP, the VTI will provide veterans involved in criminal activity the prospect of a “second chance” to recover and thrive after completing this rigorous process. The VTI’s mission is to provide participants with a path for the veteran to provide value and major contributions to society as a civilian, just as they did during their military service.
TRACK 2 – Mental Health or Addiction Counseling and Treatment
Since eligibility to the VDP is predicated upon an illness or condition causing or contributing to a defendant’s commission of an offense, the admitted defendant must seek and participate in mental health or addiction counseling and treatment. A participating defendant, with the assistance of counsel, must take steps to receive necessary treatment with the Veterans Administration (VA). Additionally, treatment may be supplemented or in limited cases substituted through private mental health or addiction counseling and treatment at the discretion of the MCPO.
As a condition of the VDP, periodic counseling and treatment updates must be provided in writing to the MCPO through counsel or by a defendant. It is the responsibility of the defendant to make sure that these updates or reports are forwarded by the VA or other treatment provider.
Per the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute, the court shall review the status of deferred prosecutions under the VDP at least every six (6) months from the date a defendant was admitted into the VDP and, thereafter, every 6 months until completion of the VDP.
What Happens After Successfully Complying with the VDP Conditions?
A veteran who successfully completes the terms and conditions of this program to the satisfaction of the prosecutor has not been the subject of any subsequent criminal charges and continues to make progress with mental health and/or substance abuse treatment shall have his/her charges dismissed.
In the case of dismissal of charges after successful completion of the VDP, the MCPO will move before the Court for the expungement of all records and information relating to the arrest, charge, and diversion at the time of dismissal. Alternatively, a defendant who successfully completed the VDP may apply for expungement following the issuance of an order of dismissal if an expungement was not granted at the time of dismissal.
What Happens If a Veteran Fails to Comply with the VDP Conditions?
If, at any time after admission into the VDP, the prosecutor determines that the servicemember has failed to comply with any term or condition of the diversion agreement, the prosecutor may notify the court that it is prepared to proceed with the prosecution and the court shall schedule court proceedings as appropriate.
How to Apply
Attorneys who believe their clients may qualify for this program should complete the VDP Application form, VDP Medical Release form, VA Medical Release form and VDP Referral form. These forms may be completed online and saved to your computer by selecting “File/Save As.” The completed .pdf forms should then be emailed to email@example.com
Any additional questions regarding the program can be directed to Assistant Prosecutor Kathleen S. Bycsek at KBycsek@mcponj.org or 732-431-7160, Ext. 7296.