Spring 2009 Edition NJDMAVA Veterans

About NJ Veteran Journal:
The New Jersey Veteran Journal is an official publication of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and is intended to serve New Jersey's veterans, their families, friends and concerned individuals and groups. All correspondence should be sent to:

Veteran Journal Editor, NJDMAVA/PA, PO Box 340,
Trenton, NJ 08625-0340

Vets Project kicks off in Union County
Photo and story by Wayne Woolley, NJDMAVA/PA

An innovative effort to help veterans who get in trouble with the law kicked off recently in Union County, the second county in the state to adopt what’s known as the Veterans Assistance Project.

The project is a partnership between the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Judiciary and it aims to identify every former and current service member who enters the criminal justice system. Mentors are assigned to the veterans deemed most likely to benefit from extra help in obtaining services such as mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and specialized benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich (l) makes a point during training for Veterans Assistance Project volunteer mentors while New Jersey Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Gerald O’Rourke and Union County Veterans Service Officer Anna Kazmierczyk (r) look on.

In short, the program’s goal is to help the veterans help themselves and hopefully prevent them from running afoul of the law again.

“This is not a free ticket,” said Army National Guard Col. James Grant, Director of the Joint Staff. “But this tells a veteran ‘You just did a service for your nation. We realize this may have caused changes in your life.’”

In Union County, home to an estimated 33,000 veterans, nearly a dozen volunteer mentors underwent a day of training in Elizabeth on Feb. 19 led by Soldiers from the Army National Guard’s 254th Regiment (Combat Arms). Many of the volunteers were Union County Sheriff’s officers. All of those officers were veterans, most with combat experience in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Among them is Officer Matthew Zucosky, who served two tours in Iraq and wears as part of his sheriff uniform a tie clip bearing an eagle, globe and anchor – the Marine Corps symbol.

“This program should help a lot of veterans,” said Zucosky, who left the military in 2005. “I see guys all the time who are having problems and need extra help.”

Sheriff Ralph Froehlich, who served with the Marines in Korea, was pleased so many of his officers volunteered to become mentors.

“It’s extra work so it’s not the kind of thing I would ever order somebody to do,” he said. “But they’re excited to help out and I’m sure they’ll make a difference.”

Army National Guard Master Sgt. Richard Roswell led the mentors through a number of practice scenarios, such as how to guide reluctant veterans to learn to help themselves and how to respond to a phone call from a vet in crises and contemplating suicide or considering hurting someone else.

He told the mentors to expect that many of the veterans will be suffering from conditions brought about by combat, such as post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury – which can severely impair someone’s memory and judgment.

“These are people who may have a lot of appointments, from seeing their lawyer, or doctor, or mental health specialist,” Roswell said. “They may need your help remembering some of these things. You aren’t there to do things for them, you’re there to help them help themselves.”

The Veterans Assistance Project launched in Atlantic County in December 2008. So far, 31 veterans have been referred by the Atlantic County courts to the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The program is geared toward providing services to veterans, not diverting veterans from the courts. Veterans who are charged with indictable and non-indictable offenses, other than minor traffic matters, as well as veterans who are on probation, are eligible to participate in the program.

Union County veterans in need of assistance or anyone interested in becoming a volunteer mentor may call Moise Abraham, the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Veterans Service Officer for Union County at 973-297-3336 or Salvatore Mione, Union County Office of Veterans’ Affairs at 908-527-4946.