Certain mentally- or emotionally-afflicted military members or veterans facing criminal charges would have a chance at treatment before court, if legislation sponsored by Burlington County Senator Diane Allen (R-7) becomes law.

NJ State Senator Diane Allen (SenateNJ.com)

The measure, S-307, won passage this week by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, a critical step on the path toward enactment, through examination of funding capabilities.

"When they return from service, so many veterans struggle with health conditions like PTSD, addiction and serious depression," the Senator 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."

Bill S-307 creates a statewide Veterans Diversion Program, giving service members and vets an early alternative to the justice system through screening, counseling, treatment and case management for mental health, substance abuse, and recurring health issues.

If criminal charges are filed, courts would have an option to postpone proceedings and let the defendant undergo at least six months of mental health intervention. Prosecutors who see improvement and compliance with the agreeement can move for dismissals.

The Veterans Assistance Project currently identifies veterans in the justice system and provides referrals to mentors and community services. Allen contends that referrals without clear directions to access help have limited value, at best.

"This program will enable law enforcement, the courts and health professionals to better serve those who have served our country," she said. "These individuals fought for us, and as long as they are non-violent, they deserve a chance to get better instead of being incarcerated."

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