Program to Provide Non-Violent Veteran Defendants andVictims With Support Services and Treatment
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced that her office has launched an unprecedented initiative focused on getting non-violent war veterans charged with low-level crimes the support services and treatment they need so that they can rehabilitate and avoid incarceration.
Rice’s office will be part of a three-county program focused on the rehabilitation of veterans in the criminal justice system. Rice was flanked at a Tuesday morning press conference to announce the initiative by the district attorneys of Queens and Brooklyn, as well as the administrative judge of the New York State court system. The group announced the program outside of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York City. The model crafted by the three counties is expected to serve as a blueprint for how to handle returning war veterans ensnared in criminal justice systems throughout New York and across the country.
Under the Veterans Project, criminal cases against former servicemen and women will be identified by police officers and prosecutors as soon as they enter the criminal justice system. Specially trained personnel will help eligible non-violent defendants receive treatment and support services tailored to meet any number of problems veterans face, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other combat-related physical and mental injuries. The Veterans Project will target and treat these underlying issues while also helping the veteran overcome co-occurring disorders, such as homelessness and substance abuse.
Veterans who successfully complete the program may have their charges or sentences reduced or dismissed. The program will loosely model diversionary programs in place for non-violent offenders with substance abuse addictions or mental illness. For veterans who have been the victims of a crime, specially trained personnel within the district attorney’s offices will work to provide any and all possible support services.
According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, New York State is home to 1.1 million veterans. The three counties implementing the initiative have a population in excess of 6.1 million people, making the initiative’s scope larger than the population of 33 U.S. states.
“During our darkest hours, it is clear that our veterans and men and women in service are the backbone of this country,” Rice said. “When we need them most, they are there with unwavering courage. When they return, we must be there for them with the same steadfast support they so desperately deserve. I am proud to be a part of this unprecedented effort to recognize not only the contributions of veterans, but also the cost of their heroism. Our system must treat these veterans with an eye toward rehabilitation, an appreciation for their valor and an understanding of the psychological toll of military service.”
Rice has also recently formed an interoffice veteran advisory committee made up of active and retired military personnel. The group will advise the district attorney on veterans’ issues and propose solutions to handle the expected influx of returning servicemen and women from military operations around the world.
“Nassau County is proud to send many brave men and women to frontlines around the world,” said Rice. “And we will be equally proud to become a leader in how we take care of these warriors when they return to our communities.”
The Veterans Project will be assisted by funds, grants and services provided for by the Law and Psychiatry Institute, as well as grants obtained through the Touro Law Center. The Law and Psychiatry Institute will also provide private funding for ancillary program services and the collection of data.