Many veterans returning from active duty in Iraq and/or Afghanistan turn to drugs and alcohol in an effort to self-medicate service-related issues. Others facing readjustment are left to struggle through a range of unwanted emotional responses to the trauma of combat. Often, these vets enter the criminal justice system in Rockland County.
As part of the VATI program, returning service members facing nonviolent criminal charges in Rockland County are identified and screened, then linked with veteran-specific substance abuse and mental health treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration.
The Veteran's Alternative to Incarceration program offers an alternative to jail for some combat vets who commit nonviolent crimes when they return from Iraq or Afghanistan. The goal of the VATI program is to reduce criminal behavior and rearrest rates, while helping veterans turn their lives around.
Eligibility criteria for the Veteran's Alternative to Incarceration program:
- Participant must be a veteran of the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan
- Participant must be in need of treatment for mental health, chemical dependency, and/or co-occurring disorder
- Participant must face nonviolent criminal charges in Rockland County
- Participant must not have a history of violent criminal convictions
Once charged, a veteran is identified by police, a judge, assistant district attorney or defense attorney as a returning service member from the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. If there is reason to believe the defendant is in need of treatment, a referral will be made to the Director of Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) in the DA's Office. Once the case is reviewed and the defendant is determined to be eligible, the Director of the Rockland County Veterans Service Agency will be contacted to arrange an evaluation.
Upon case evaluation, the Veterans Service Agency devises a treatment plan, which must be reviewed and approved by the District Attorney's office, the court and defense attorney.
Veterans taking part in the VATI program plead guilty to an agreed upon charge and sentencing will be held in abeyance for 12 months for a misdemeanor charge and 18 months for a felony charge.
When the defendant meets all required treatment conditions and completes other VATI requirements, the criminal charges will be reduced or dismissed.
Because an existing criminal justice infrastructure already exists, Rockland County's VATI program comes with little or no cost. It saves taxpayers money, because enrolling veterans in treatment programs costs significantly less than housing them in jail and will free up prison beds for more dangerous criminals.
The experiences of the veteran while serving our country often leave deep emotional and physical scars. The VATI program is designed to address these issues. By leveraging the coercive power of the criminal justice system, VATI alters the behavior of nonviolent offenders through a combination of judicial supervision, case management and treatment to ensure abstinence from alcohol and drugs, mental well-being and a crime-free lifestyle.
Thomas Zugibe, Rockland County District Attorney
For more information on the VATI program, contact:
Judy Rosenthal, Ed.M.
Director of Alternatives to Incarceration
Office of the Rockland County District Attorney
TEL: (845) 638-5683
Director, Rockland County Veterans Service Agency
TEL: (845) 638-5244