News

Peer Counseling Bill For NJ Vets Heads To Gov. Christie

Gov. Chris Christie is seen at the Statehouse - Trenton, NJ - May 26, 2011 (credit: Tim Larsen / Governor's Office)

Gov. Chris Christie (credit: Tim Larsen / Governor’s Office)

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Legislation that would make permanent a peer counseling program that has helped thousands of New Jersey veterans deal with mental health matters has been sent to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk.

Vet-2-Vet, a toll-free confidential help line, was created years ago by the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. It’s designed as an early intervention for returning veterans suffering from psychological or emotional distress or seeking help assimilating back into civilian life.

The help line has fielded more than 6,000 calls since its inception about six years ago, and officials project a 10 percent increase in calls in the near future. But it’s funded by the agencies on a year-to-year basis, and the measure unanimously passed by both the Assembly and Senate calls for the state to fund its operations.

It’s not clear whether or when the governor will consider the bill. His office hasn’t commented on the governor’s plans, and Christie himself hasn’t addressed the matter.

Modeled on the state’s Cop-2-Cop program, which helps police officers with job-related stress, Vet-2-Vet trains mostly combat veterans to serve as volunteer counselors.

Most callers are soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan who are now dealing with various mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, aggression, post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide.

Others are under stress simply from trying to reintegrate back into their pre-wartime lives.

“The helpline is a great idea that receives and responds to calls from veterans, service members and their families,” said Jack Conners, D-Pennsauken, who chairs the Assembly’s Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “We sadly know all too well that many of our veterans need a helping hand once they’ve returned home, and hopefully a peer support program like this will encourage them to seek help when they need it.”

Conners was one of the measure’s primary sponsors in the assembly, along with Cleopatra Tucker of Newark and Paul Moriarty of Turnersville. In the senate, it was sponsored by Democrats Fred Madden of Turnersville and James Beach of Voorhees.

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(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)