Program Helps Veterans Accused Of Crimes

The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office (Photo by Micromedia Publications)

TOMS RIVER – The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office is recognizing Veterans Day, led by Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer.

“On this day, we don’t only celebrate our freedom and our democracy but also the incredible sacrifices made to achieve them,” Billhimer said. “Veterans Day is a reminder that the blessings we often take for granted are the result of the bravery and selflessness of our servicemen and women.

“For many, service to our country comes at a great personal cost. Because of the risks, the sacrifices and the depravation, no one leaves the military unchanged. For some, there are physical injuries. For others, the wounds are invisible but they are as painful and as real.”

Billhimer is carrying on the program developed in 2016, the Veteran’s Diversionary Program. Knowing the sacrifice made by men and women in the service, the OCPO developed the program, which offers veterans who face criminal charges an alternative to criminal prosecution.

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The program is under the direction of Senior Assistant Prosecutor Renee White. Retired Army Medic Ruben Gomez, often accompanied by his service dog Faora (he lost a leg in Afghanistan), is the point person for those entering the program. Mantoloking Police Lieutenant John Barcus (United States Marines), Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Nagel (United States Marines), Lacey Police Sergeant Robert Surtees (United States Marines), and Jackson Police Officer John Roth (United States Marines) also work in the program. Billhimer said the success of the program wouldn’t be possible without them as well as Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Agent Kate Pennypacker, Nurse Dominic Sofield (United States Army) and Lindsey Gomez (United States Army).

The program is specifically designed for veterans suffering from mental illnesses and post-traumatic stress disorder arising from their service. They can voluntarily enter the program, and upon acceptance, are offered one-on-one mentoring by fellow veterans. Together, they work to address any underlying issues associated with the criminal charges.

The program gained statewide attention, and was signed into legislation in December 2017 to create a New Jersey Veteran’s Diversion Program.

“When their nation called, they answered. For this, we are eternally grateful,” Billhimer said.