Veterans find hope at addiction treatment facility with Catholic roots

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Chaz Muth

LAKE, N.Y. (CNS) — Daniel Courtney could feel the tightening grip that drugs
and alcohol had on him in the years after he served in the war in Iraq.

former altar server from Rockaway Beach, New York, and Navy war veteran was
increasingly using alcohol and cocaine as a way of coping with his war
experience and life’s other traumas.

had short-term stays in military and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
hospitals in the past to be treated for substance abuse and post-traumatic
stress disorder and he enjoyed brief periods of sobriety.

by 2014, a happy, sober, stable civilian life seemed far out of reach to
Courtney, who had been offered a 90-day stay at another VA rehabilitation
center, which didn’t seem like enough treatment time to him.

VA counselors told him about a recently opened inpatient substance-abuse
rehabilitation facility in Saranac Lake specifically designed to care for
military veterans, where patients participated in a six- to 12-month-long
treatment program.

information about the Col. C. David Merkel, MD Veterans Residence at the St.
Joseph’s Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers in northern New York’s
Adirondacks got Courtney’s attention.

said that is probably better for me,” he recalled telling the VA

then-34-year-old Courtney traveled to St. Joseph’s and he was mesmerized by the
beauty of the area.

he settled in, the spiritual nature of the place reminded him of his Catholic

let out this big sigh of relief,” Courtney told Catholic News Service
during a February interview at St. Joseph’s. “I knew I was in the right

the help of a $3 million grant from New York state, St. Joseph’s built a
10,000-square-foot, 25-bed facility in 2014 to house its new veterans program,
tailored to focus on the specific vulnerabilities and emotional triggers for members
of the military, said Bob Ross, CEO of the 45-year-old treatment center.

addition of the veterans program is “consistent with our mission to find
and identify the people most in need of addiction services who are not now
receiving them with easy access,” Ross told CNS. “It’s an honor to be
in a position to support our veterans who have supported us.”

Joseph’s was established in 1971 by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement to treat
alcoholics who lacked the financial resources for treatment.

friars steadily expanded the center to include chemical dependency and family
co-dependency care.

the facility is no longer operated by the friars, its Catholic roots are deep
and the independently run treatment center has carried on the tradition of
providing more than $300,000 in charity care annually, said Deacon Steven
DeMartino, chairman of the board of directors for St. Joseph’s.

social justice has been very clear for a very long time, going all of the way
back to the Gospel, that we have an obligation in our discipleship to reach out
to those on the margins, to those who are suffering,” Deacon DeMartino
told CNS. “So, there’s a very obvious connection with our tradition.”

who are treated in St Joseph’s new program are asked for a donation for their
care if they have the financial resources to do so, but if they don’t, the cost
of their treatment is covered by ongoing support from the state, Ross said.

don’t want to take money that they need to support their family,” he said.
“On the other hand, we want to encourage them to make a contribution that
allows us to have enough resources to serve the full compliment of people who
are there.”

new center made it possible for Theodore Fendick of Johnson City, New York, to really
delve into the source of his alcoholism in the nine months he stayed there.

Air Force veteran had been to rehab seven times before he went to St. Joseph’s,
but said he now feels better equipped to manage his disease.

also decided to stay in Saranac Lake to live and work in the serene setting and
take advantage of the close proximity to the treatment center.

not uncommon for patients who complete their program to remain in the area,
said Zackary Randolph, the veterans program director at St. Joseph’s.

part of their treatment, the veterans are encouraged to volunteer as cleanup
crew members throughout the town, work in the local food pantries and help out
on the grounds of St. Joseph’s, Randolph said.

work is therapeutic and provides the men with a sense of engagement with the
community, he told CNS.

starting a legacy of relocating these heroes into our community who can give
back,” said Randolph, who also is a military veteran and recovering
substance abuser. “We have so many of them who come back. They mentor the
residents who are going through the program currently,” he said. “They
are such a blessing to our population and to the community.”

is not the only recovering substance abuser on staff. Nor is he the only

majority of the veterans program staff members have either served in the
military or have had a close association with the armed forces, giving them a
deeper understanding of military culture and the struggles that are unique to
those who have served, he said.

staff’s understanding of military life was not lost on Fendick, who said they
provided him with a therapeutic home that made him feel like he was welcomed
and accepted.

been an entire experience that makes you want to be who you should be,”
Fendick told CNS. “What St. Joe’s taught me is I have to be happy with me.”

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Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.

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