Leaving no vet behind: Four graduate from Northumberland County veterans court
SUNBURY - Four veterans charged with breaking the law made amends - and history - by becoming the first graduates of the Northumberland County Veterans Treatment Court.
Charles Oushick, 64, of Mount Carmel; Jason McGinn, 33, of Shamokin; Chuck Lloyd, 45, of Coal Township; and Roy Snyder, 40, of Shamokin Dam, formerly of Mount Carmel, completed a rigorous one-year treatment court presided over by Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor in cooperation with county treatment court coordinator Noel Jones and other members of the veterans treatment court team.
A 35-minute ceremony Friday morning at the courthouse featured an inspirational talk by award-winning veterans advocate and writer John Deppen, Northumberland, and the presentation of certificates and commemorative coins to the graduates. On the front of the coins were logos from the five military branches, while the back contained the message, "Leave no veteran behind. Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right."
Ouschick, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1969 to 1971 and was an 18-year member of the U.S. Army Reserves, spoke to The News-Item after the program.
The Mount Carmel resident, who retired in 2008 after serving 28 years as a heavy equipment mechanic at Fort Indiantown Gap, stated, "I was a tunnel rat during the Vietnam War. I also ran recognizance missions and served as an Amtrak driver. It was tough over there in Vietnam."
He said he took a couple years off after his Marine service before joining the U.S. Army Reserves in Schuylkill Haven, where he was a member of the 6-68th Armor.
Born and raised in Frackville, Ouschick said he was proud to be part of the first veterans treatment court class.
"We really had to earn our way here by completing the program," he said. "You had to abide by all the requirements set forth by the court and stay out of trouble."
Oushick, who said suffers from a nervous condition and stress from serving in Vietnam and still gets flashbacks from the war, said he was arrested a few years ago for "punching a cop" in Mount Carmel while he had been drinking. "I just snapped out and I spent a week in Northumberland County Prison," he said.
During the ceremony, Oushick and the other three veterans said they were grateful for the assistance they received during the treatment court, which helped turned their lives around in a positive direction.
McGinn and Snyder, who served in the U.S. Army, and Lloyd, a U.S. Air Force veteran, are employed at local businesses.
Model for state
Deppen said the veterans treatment court started 13 months ago.
"We should be proud of what this court and these veterans have accomplished. And these veterans should be proud of themselves. Everyone makes regrettable choices and this was no easy program to complete," he said.
He commended the graduates and veterans treatment court team, and especially praised Saylor for his firmness and fairness in leading the court.
Deppen, who is employed by the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, said the veterans treatment court, which is operated at no cost to the county, will one day serve as a model for other treatment courts in the state. Only 13 counties have a special treatment court for veterans.
"Veterans have paid the price and are continuing to suffer after returning from combat and facing many issues, including being homeless and contemplating suicide," he said.
Deppen said there have been more suicides by veterans in 2012 than combat fatalities suffered in Afghanistan.
He said there are approximately one million veterans living in Pennsylvania, the fifth highest population of veterans in the nation. There are slightly less than 9,000 veterans in Northumberland County, approximately 10 percent of the county's total population.
The court demands accountability of all veterans who participate, while at the same time recognizing that many factors influencing their behavior.
"We need more initiatives like veterans treatment court and we must all do our part by making sure no veteran is left behind. That's our mission statement and the mission is ongoing," Deppen concluded.
Saylor, who presented a welcoming and closing address, said veterans must attend weekly court sessions and abide by the conditions of their probation while being monitored. The court helps veterans who have broken the law become goal oriented and productive members of society, he said.
The judge noted veterans have a high risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system because of the dangers and illnesses they encounter from serving their country.
"They deserve special consideration as they adapt to civilian life after fighting for our freedoms," he said.
Ted Andrewlevich of Sunbury, a Mount Carmel native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, sang a splendid rendition of the national anthem.
The costs of the graduation ceremony were covered by a donation from Mount Carmel Veterans of Foreign Wars, and grant funds.
Many help court
Members of the veterans treatment court team include Saylor, Jones, Deppen, President Judge Robert B. Sacavage, Attorney Erin E. Odell, veteran outreach coordinator Kimberly Sapolis, Assistant District Attorney Melissa Norton, Public Defender Paige Rosini, adult probation treatment court supervisor Michael Barvitskie, adult probation veterans court officer Marc Weir, county veteran affairs director Belinda Albright, county director of drug and alcohol Glenda Bonetti, and Attorney Michael Balducci, who serves as mentor coordinator.
Also assisting are Judge William H. Wiest; Karen Blackburn, program administrator for the problem solving courts program under the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts; April J. Billet-Barclay, assistant problem solving court administrator; Congressman Tom Marino, and state Reps. Kurt Masser (R-107) and Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-108).
Veteran treatment court mentors are Jim Kealy, Phil Rosko and Stacy Stancavage, all of Mount Carmel, Paul Leshinskie, of Coal Township, and Buzz Meachum, of Sunbury.