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Veterans account for nine of every 100 inmates in U.S. jails and prisons, according to the Center for Mental Health Services' National GAINS Center.

Source: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/83010077.html

Jan. 29, 2010

New Glouco program will help veterans in trouble
By Darran Simon

Inquirer Staff Writer

About a year ago, Fred Suter met his first Iraq war veteran - a boyish, pleasant Marine scarred with skin grafts on his forearm past his elbow and limping.
It was a reminder of the possible cost of service for the eventual coordinator of a new veterans assistance program at the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office.

"Veterans experience life-changing events or suffer life-changing injuries, and they deserve our support on the road to recovery - physically and mentally," said Suter, whose brother served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Suter, 46, captain of detectives in the Prosecutor's Office, will coordinate a unit that identifies veterans in the court system facing criminal charges and tries to get them mental-health, social, and other services.

Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton announced the program this week. It hasn't begun working with anyone yet, officials said.

Dalton said he had chosen Suter, who served as a Marine in North Carolina for four years in the 1980s, because of military and law enforcement background.

Dalton also tapped Assistant Prosecutor Laurie Cimino and trial chief Mary Pyffer, who will screen suspects before and after indictments.

The team will work to determine whether veterans have service-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and if the conditions contributed to the charges against them.

As veterans trickle home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, programs like Gloucester County's are surfacing nationwide to assist veterans in the criminal justice system and address underlying issues such as substance abuse.

"This isn't set up to keep veterans out of jail," Suter said. "We're looking to provide them services they're entitled to. We're not going to forget about the victim."

Gloucester's program comes as the military has agreed to expedite the review of thousands of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder who may be entitled to more benefits.

Veterans account for nine of every 100 inmates in U.S. jails and prisons, according to the Center for Mental Health Services' National GAINS Center.

In New Jersey, fewer than 10 percent of 560,000 veterans served in Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan, said Wayne Woolley, a spokesman with the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The state Department of Corrections doesn't gather information on veterans from specific wars.

The Gloucester program bears similarities to the state's growing Veterans Assistance Project, which, with the court system, identifies veterans and gets them mental-health and drug-and-alcohol counseling and other benefits.

The state project operates in five counties, including Burlington and Atlantic, Woolley said. It will expand to five more, including Camden, in three months or so, and ultimately throughout the state, he said.

The Gloucester program will work with the Veterans Assistance Project, which is run by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the judiciary, and the state Department of Human Services' Division of Mental Health Services.

Burlington and Camden don't have their own programs.

In Gloucester, Suter also will act as liaison to the county and state veteran agencies, military branches, treatment providers, and others.

"This is new. Every case we are involved with, we're going to learn from it," he said.

Anyone with knowledge of veterans who have been charged with a crime in Gloucester County is encouraged to call Capt. Fred Suter at 856-384-5630.


Contact staff writer Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or dsimon@phillynews.com