Date: July 7, 2009
Hon. Ann Pfau
Chief Judge Announces Launch of Veterans Project in Kings, Nassau and Queens Counties
NEW YORK – Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman was joined today by Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown, Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice to announce the launch of an historic collaborative effort called the Veterans Project. The innovative new program is designed to identify nonviolent veteran offenders and provide outreach, specialized support services and treatment to divert them from incarceration; offer peer support to sustain engagement in services; and facilitate the exchange of information between legal, clinical and community resources.
The veteran-focused program is a three-county cooperative project between the New York State courts, the District Attorneys Offices of Kings, Queens and Nassau Counties, the Law and Psychiatry Institute of the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System and the Department of Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, in association with the Touro Law Center. The project establishes a standardized approach to the provision of services and treatment for veterans involved with the criminal justice system as both defendants and victims. The program provides a model that can be replicated throughout New York and nationwide to address the unique challenges that disproportionately affect those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other veterans.
Former servicemen and women who have plead guilty to nonviolent crimes, been determined not to present a threat to community safety and are willing to comply with court imposed conditions as an alternative to incarceration will be considered for diversion. Under the Veterans Project, defendants with prior military service will be identified as soon as they enter the criminal justice system. The program will aid participants in accessing treatment and support services tailored to meet the prevalent problems faced by many returning veterans – including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma and other combat-related physical and mental injuries. The Veterans Project will target and treat these underlying issues while helping nonviolent veteran respondents overcome co-occuring disorders, such as homelessness, substance abuse and violence. The program’s specially trained personnel will offer participants treatment resources and support services that are both community-based and culturally competent. Veterans who successfully complete the program may have their charges dismissed or reduced or receive a reduction in their sentence. For veterans who are victims of a crime, specially trained personnel will work within the District Attorneys Offices to maximize the use of resources to provide support services.
Chief Judge Lippman said, “Our veterans risk extraordinary sacrifice in our defense. Though we can never fully repay the debt we owe them, this program is a step in the right direction. The Veterans Project launches at a crucial time when thousands of New Yorkers are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an even greater number have returned home. With this important undertaking, we honor the service of these brave men and women by working cooperatively to identify and meet their greatest and most pressing needs. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler – a Korean War veteran – and his staff at the Law and Psychiatry Institute for their tireless work to make this project a reality; to those at the Department of Veterans Affairs, who provided indispensable guidance in the design of this innovative program; and to District Attorneys Hynes, Brown and Rice, for their help in launching this vital effort to benefit our servicemen and women.”
District Attorney Hynes said, “We have learned from the past that veterans may need enhanced services should they become involved in the criminal justice system as victims and as defendants, especially when they are coming home from war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. I am proud to be part of this program of our innovative Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and my fellow District Attorneys Kathleen Rice and Richard Brown. Our veterans deserve our understanding and a special effort that gives all of us a safer place to live.”
District Attorney Brown added, “Returning veterans, who have served our nation so well, deserve our respect and support. Many have personally witnessed the horror and devastation that war brings and some carry deep emotional and psychological scars as a result of their experience. The joint effort we are announcing today is designed to assist these veterans and their families. It will help ensure that when veterans in need of mental health services become involved in the criminal justice system, our courts are prepared to provide needed treatment as an alternative to incarceration. The Queens County District Attorney’s Office is proud to be a part of this important project.”
“During our darkest hours, it is clear that our veterans and men and women in service are the backbone of this country,” said District Attorney Rice. “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.”
Acting Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System Martina A. Parauda said, “This gives the health care professionals of the Veterans Administration New York Harbor Healthcare System one more tool to coordinate services for our veterans. This program opens the door for our health care providers to aid veterans who have become involved in the criminal justice system with much needed mental health and substance abuse services. It also gives us the opportunity to help veterans who are victims of crime. It's a very positive step for all.”
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.