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A Soldier On Success Story

A young girl from upstate New York dreamt about becoming an astronaut. In 2002, Page Policastro enrolled in the ROTC program at The University of Connecticut to pursue her dream of becoming a pilot. However, after learning she had limited depth perception, Page’s dream quickly came to end. Page quickly looked for alternative routes to be able to live out her dream. In 2003, Page enlisted in the Air Force Reserve and from 2006 to 2011 was on active duty orders. When she was told that that crew chief was a “man’s job” she said sign me up! During her time enlisted, Page experienced the “typical harassment” of name calling being one of the only female crew chiefs. Being quick witted and able to think on her feet, it did not affect her immediately, however, the stress of these interactions built up over time.
The drinking didn’t begin until 2010 when Page’s relationship ended with not only her boyfriend, but her coworker. Their breakup was public knowledge with the rest of their colleagues. Page drank to keep up with the boys and to cope as if nothing had happened.  Then, the reality set in that she was never going to be good enough to earn the respect of her fellow colleagues. The only time Page was ever invited by her squadron was to grab a drink after work. Which led to the progression of drinking to the point of being a functional alcoholic. Over the course of the next year, Page was far from happy, letting the depression set in.
For the next two years, Page became an overachiever as she felt a constant need for everyone’s approval. One day, she had overworked herself to the point where she was not paying attention and tripped on a B-5 stand and hit her head. In her attempt to be tougher than the men in her squadron, Page didn’t listen to them when they instructed to her to go to the hospital. Roughly three weeks after her accident, Page suffered a grand mal seizure after which she was promptly removed from the flight line and put in an office squadron.
Page moved home to Shelton, CT as she could no longer deal with sitting behind a desk. By the fall of 2012 Page entered a 28-day rehab facility in Hartford. During those four weeks, the distance Page created between herself and the alcohol made her feel so wonderful that she stayed at the facility for an additional 90 days. Page soon applied to Bridgeport Hospital School of Nursing to be a surgical technologist.
By 2014, Page graduated top in her class and received a job offer from Yale-New Haven hospital. In September, Page ended up moving in with an old colleague who was dealing with a separation from his wife in Middleton, CT. The move created a long commute and it made more sense for Page to transfer to St. Francis Hospital, which was closer to home. The timing seemed perfect for both then to live together as they both believed they were helping each other out. They always joked about being in love with one another, which led to a relationship – the biggest mistake Page could ever make.
After being sober for year and half, Page relapsed back to drinking. She had been manipulated to believe that no one could ever love her other than this man. The drinking became a daily occurrence, causing her to lose her employment. Page’s mother, sister, and even her colleagues reached out to help her, but he kept Page in the dark about all of them. Before she knew it, Page was isolating herself from everyone but him. When she was sober, Page’s mind was clear.  She knew she gotten herself into a difficult situation as she was now in a full-blown relationship with a married man.
Page went to the West Haven VA to get help.  From there, they sent her to the Bath (NY) VA Medical Center for a four-month program. Upon returning from rehab in February 2016, Page moved to Rocky Hill, CT where she held two jobs at the Middlesex Hospital and the Big Y. During this time Page was living at the Veterans’ Home, but still talking to Eric every day. By July, Page found herself without a bed as she was kicked out of the Veteran’s Home for drinking. While staying at a friend’s, Page fell into such a deep depression that she could not get herself out of bed.
Broken, with no self-esteem and in a hopeless relationship with no future with a married man, Page knew she could not fight her internal battle with herself any longer. After a friend saw a sign for “Soldier On” when passing through Leeds, MA, she decided to see what the organization was all about. After doing some research, Page found the application for the Women’s Program, but after submitting her application she was informed there was waiting list. Four days later, Page received a phone call from Sara Scoco, Director of the Women’s Program, welcoming her to Soldier On. On October 19, 2016, Page started her journey to get her life back in order. Within no time, Page became a member of the house committee and got a job at the local Big Y.
While Page credits Soldier On for helping reclaim her life, she said that she could not have gotten where she is today without with the love and support of her mother and sister. Page has now built up her confidence and understands that she does not need to liked by everyone, but rather respected by them. Celebrating 8 month of sobriety, Page has been accepted into the nursing program at Holyoke Community College where she will begin classes this September. As Page transitions into the community in September, Soldier On wishes her the best and will always welcome her to come and visit.

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Western Massachusetts Veterans Treatment Court Graduation

On June 28th judges, district attorneys, elected officials and police honored Johanna Montalvo, Anthony Dauphinais, Robert Motley and Kenneth Martin as the first graduates of the Western Massachusetts Veterans Treatment Court in a ceremony held at Holyoke District Court.
Judge Laurie MacLeod presented each graduate with a certificate and a challenge coin. The latter is a medallion given and received in a gesture rooted in military history as a sign of camaraderie, membership in a mission completed and a tangible token that the work continues.
“You can see today the evidence that the program works,” said MacLeod, presiding justice of the treatment court.

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Johanna Montalvo served in the U.S. Army for six years and the National Guard in Puerto Rico for two years. As Johanna awaited her court appearance in November 2015, Alexis Truslow from Soldier On visited Johanna and interviewed her. Montalvo was not aware she was a potential candidate for the Veterans Treatment Court.  She began in the veterans treatment court Nov. 4, 2015, one of its first participants, said Chief Sean M. McBride of the Holyoke District Court Probation Department. “Since beginning the treatment court she has tested clean on every drug test,” he said.

Montalvo spent 9 months at the Soldier On Women’s Program before she transitioned into the community. Montalvo is employed full time as a recovery coach at Hope for Holyoke where she provides support people undergoing substance-abuse treatment.

As the first graduate, Montalvo spoke on behalf of the graduates during the ceremony.

“Does it work? Well,” said Montalvo, laughing and prompting laughter in the courtroom, “I can only speak from my own experience. Today I have a God of my understanding who loves me and guides me every step of the way. I was given the chance of a lifetime. I have been free of mind-altering substances for almost two years.”

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Montalvo received an honorary American flag that flew at the U.S. military’s Al Asad Airbase in Iraq during a 2004 commemoration of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The flag was presented by Antonio Padilla, a former U.S. Marine and current probation officer of the Western Massachusetts Veterans Treatment Court in Holyoke District Court. He praised her work with homeless people, helping them find housing and working with police on such issues.
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The mission of the Western Massachusetts Veterans Treatment Court is to reintegrate court-involved individuals who have served in the nation’s armed forces into society as honorable citizens. Admission into the Veterans Treatment Court provides for competent assessment and treatment planning for both substance dependence and mental health disorders. The program included supervision, monitoring and support to veterans while protecting public safety.
The Western MA Veterans Treatment Court offers a voluntary, 18-month probation term intended to serve veterans struggling with mental health and/or substance use disorders. The program involves ongoing judicial and probation supervision with input from a multidisciplinary team of professionals. The Court promotes sobriety, recovery and stability through collaborations with VA and community-based treatment providers including Soldier On. In addition, all participants are matched with a veteran peer mentor who acts as an advocate and mentor.

Click to read the full article.

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MS News featured Mississippi Statewide Incarcerated Veterans Program

Veterans serving time in MS prisons get help from new program Soldier On

Posted by Maggie Wade, News Anchor

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Veterans behind bars in Mississippi are getting help before and after their release from prison. The Mississippi Department of Corrections , MDOC,  is offering the Mississippi Statewide Incarcerated Veterans Program or Soldier On.

Since it’s launch May 9, 2016, 59 inmates have been enrolled.  Right now, 32 former soldiers are participating, including April Williams, who served in the U.S. Air Force.

Williams is a repeat offender who is hoping Soldier On helps her stay out of prison.

April Williams said, “it helps for education, for assistance on bettering your life instead of having to go back to the same hassles. Selling drugs, doing drugs, selling yourself. Whatever it may be.”

This is Williams second time in prison. She is serving two years for shoplifting.

The program is a joint effort between MDOC and Voice of Calvary Ministries. The program has 11 full time volunteers and three part time volunteers in addition to eight correctional officers and one case manager.

Each week veterans receive 20 hours of intensive instruction which includes meditation, life skills, marriage and family, budgeting, wills and estates, resume writing and dealing with consequences.

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Soldier On Featured on 22News Panel Discussion

InFocus: Addressing veterans’ issues and available resources

Many veterans are not aware of resources in their communities to help with transitioning to civilian life.

Amy Phillips, Producer, 22News Investigative Team

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – There are over a million people currently serving in the United States military, including reservists. There are millions more since World War 2 that have retired or been discharged.Some of these brave men and women have experienced conditions most of us could never imagine.

Homelessness, unemployment, Post Traumatic Stress, addiction and suicide are some of the most pressing issues veterans face when returning home from deployment or leaving the military. An essential part of helping veterans transition to civilian life involves their home communities, and connections to local outreach programs.

This Sunday on 22News InFocus our panel of guests represent organizations that provide a variety of supportive resources to veterans, and will discuss what’s being done to help those in need in Western Massachusetts. On the program will be:

  • John Collins, Medical Center Director at the VA of Central and Western Massachusetts Health Care System
  • Dr. Dana Weaver, Mental Health Director at the VA of Central and Western Massachusetts Health Care System
  • Gumersindo Gomez, Executive Director of the Bilingual Veterans Outreach Centers of Massachusetts
  • Christian DiLuzio, Employment and Training Specialist at Veterans, Inc.
  • Michael Hagmaier, Senior Vice President of Soldier On.

If you or someone you know is serving in the military or is a veteran in need of support services, most cities and towns provide a Veterans Service Officer who can help you connect to benefits and programs within your community.  Below are links and contacts to help you get started.

Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ ServicesList of Veterans’ Service Officers by community

VA of Central and Western Massachusetts Health Care System– Leeds, 413-584-4040

BiLingual Veterans Outreach Centers of Massachusetts-Springfield, 413-731-0194

Veterans, Inc24-hour hotline: 1-800-482-2565

Soldier On-Leeds, 413-582-3059; Pittsfield, 413-236-5644

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Soldier On featured in The Boston Globe

Unorthodox Northampton program helps veterans with drug problems

Nick Marrocco, a 62-year-old recovering heroin addict, helps arrivals adjust to Soldier On in Northampton’s Leeds neighborhood.

Nick Marrocco, a 62-year-old recovering heroin addict, helps arrivals adjust to Soldier On in Northampton’s Leeds neighborhood.

By Brian MacQuarrie GLOBE STAFF  MAY 08, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Army veteran Mark Pritchard, a recovering heroin addict, failed two drug tests early in his 15 months at the Soldier On residential program for homeless veterans here.

Each failed test sent him back to prison for a short time. And each return to Soldier On, he said, brought him close again to easily available heroin both on and off the grounds.

“If you want it, you can get it,” the 44-year-old veteran said of the hilltop campus, where a US Veterans Affairs medical center also is located.

State per-capita data released in 2016 laid bare the consequences: The Northampton neighborhood of Leeds, where Soldier On is based, ranked sixth for opioid-related hospital visits among Massachusetts ZIP codes with 1,000 or more residents, according to the state Health Policy Commission.

Five veterans at Soldier On have died from opioid overdoses over the past three years, staff members said. And police have traced some drug-related crimes in Northampton, such as breaking and entering, to its clients.

“There is a drug issue up there,” said Northampton police Sergeant Corey Robinson. “You’re dealing with people who have substance-abuse issues.”

But the organization is credited by law enforcement and social workers with working hard — and out of the box — to help men and women who have not fared well in traditional rehabilitation programs.

“They’ve been champions for the veterans,” said Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan. The potential for relapse among Soldier On’s clients, he added, “comes with the territory in many ways.”

It’s an unorthodox, regulation-averse, and relatively independent life for Soldier On veterans who use 210 transitional and permanent beds in Leeds. The organization also has a total of 82 units of permanent housing in Pittsfield and Chicopee, and 51 more are planned for Agawam in August.

Despite the persistent temptations, Pritchard and other veterans called Soldier On the best chance they have had to reclaim their lost lives.

“We’re all men here,” Pritchard said. “If you show the effort, they’ll show you the effort. If you’re tired of living your life and want to be OK, then you’re going to be OK.”

  James Torrey said he avoided added jail time in exchange for a supervised regimen in which he is given access to treatment.

James Torrey said he avoided added jail time in exchange for a supervised regimen in which he is given access to treatment.

There are no surveillance cameras at Soldier On, which is a nonprofit organization that is separate from the VA facility. There also are no scheduled drug tests, and residents can come and go until a midnight curfew.

Even some of the scheduled medications for veterans are distributed by fellow addicts and alcoholics.

A wide range of services are available, from groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, to mental-health services, relapse support, and spirituality meetings. Narcan, a drug that reverses overdoses, is available in the bathrooms.

“They don’t kick you to the curb,” said Nick Marrocco, a 62-year-old recovering heroin addict who helps new arrivals adjust to Soldier On.

However, the path to the dark side is never far away.

“On the first day I worked here, two people died in Building 26,” said Mike McMahon, a longtime correction officer who oversees day-to-day operations at Soldier On. Marrocco counted three relapses among clients at Soldier On in the past few weeks: two from opioids, one from cocaine.

Jack Downing, the president of Soldier On, said the availability of illegal opioids is part of the sinister, real-world challenges the organization readily confronts — with toughness when needed, but always with compassion. Rooms are searched when illegal drug use is suspected, staff said.

“Everyone who comes to us comes broken,” Downing said. “When they make bad decisions, we don’t want to throw them out. We have to make them believe they’re worth the hope.”

Clients can be ordered to leave the program, but such decisions are made reluctantly and only when the veteran becomes a clear threat to the Soldier On community, said John Crane, the director of case management.

“This is life,” Crane said. “There’s no blanket: ‘You go.’ ”

Expulsion can bring the same perils without the benefit of residential support. Northampton is a short ride from drug hubs in Holyoke and Springfield, and it is easily accessible to Interstate 91, a major north-south corridor of the heroin trade.

On April 29, Northampton police issued a public-health alert after responding to six non-fatal overdoses in 24 hours, including five from heroin. That alert followed an alarming surge last year, when Northampton police responded to 44 heroin overdoses, including six fatalities.

The previous year, police responded to 15 heroin overdoses and no deaths.

Officials at the VA medical center, which has 60 inpatient psychiatric beds, said they did not have overdose data immediately available. “At any given time, a veteran who struggles with addiction may occupy one of these beds,” said Andre Bowser, a spokesman for the facility, formally called the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System.

Liz Whynott, a Northampton native who oversees the Tapestry Health needle-exchange program in Western Massachusetts, said the city of 28,000 people has long grappled with heroin use. But the surge in recent years of heroin laced with fentanyl, a powerful additive, has made the problem more alarming and deadly.

Whynott said Soldier On has welcomed Tapestry’s efforts to provide it with Narcan, and that the group has been receptive to education services.

“Soldier On is amazing,” Whynott said.

Iraq veteran James Torrey echoed that sentiment. Torrey fought with the Marines at the bloody battle of Fallujah in 2004, and later fought a more protracted battle with opioids when he returned home.

About two months ago, Torrey cobbled together $3,500 to bail himself out of jail after being arrested for renting out foreclosed properties to underwrite his heroin habit. Once Torrey left jail, the 30-year-old went directly to Soldier On.

“This program is probably the closest to you being on the street” — but with a big difference, Torrey said recently. “It’s like going to your parents and telling them you [expletive] up. You don’t want to do it, but you know you can.”

Later that day, Torrey donned a nice shirt and tie for his weekly appearance at the veterans treatment court in Holyoke. By volunteering for the 18-month program, Torrey said he avoided additional jail time in exchange for a supervised regimen in which he is given access to treatment, counseled by a mentor who also is a veteran, and tested for drugs.

Torrey told Judge Laurie MacLeod that he is progressing well. He expects to get a union carpenter’s job soon, and Torrey added with a broad smile that he planned to go skydiving in a few days.

“I get bored easily, and that might have been one of the reasons I went back to drugs,” Torrey said.

For now, Torrey is on a better path, although the journey remains pocked with potholes.

Torrey’s mentor, Vietnam veteran Alan Robbins, commended him for taking pride in his appearance.

“It’s been noticed by a few people, how you present yourself,” Robbins said. “You’re doing really great.”

Marrocco gave a haircut to a fellow veteran at Soldier On.

Marrocco gave a haircut to a fellow veteran at Soldier On.

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Soldier On’s Veterans Community Arts Initiative featured in The Recorder

Nathan Hanford, a case worker and artist-in-residence for Soldier On, poses near veterans’ artwork at Salmon Falls Gallery. Hanford teaches art classes in Pittsfield and Northampton to help veterans in transition from homelessness to permanent housing. RECORDER Staff/DIANE BRONCACCIO

Nathan Hanford, a case worker and artist-in-residence for Soldier On, poses near veterans’ artwork at Salmon Falls Gallery. Hanford teaches art classes in Pittsfield and Northampton to help veterans in transition from homelessness to permanent housing. RECORDER Staff/DIANE BRONCACCIO

Art helps these vets ‘Soldier On’

By DIANE BRONCACCIO | Recorder Staff

SHELBURNE FALLS — An unusual exhibit of artwork by U.S. military veterans is now on display through April 30 at the Salmon Falls Gallery. Some of it is unabashedly patriotic, some depicts the natural environment and some is definitely abstract — different perspectives by veterans living in western Massachusetts, who have all struggled with homelessness after coming home from war-torn regions.

Having their artwork on display is a new experience for many of the artists in the Soldier On Veterans Community Arts Initiative. Soldier On is a nonprofit organization started in 1994 and dedicated to ending veterans’ homelessness. Based in Pittsfield and at the VA Hospital in Northampton, Soldier On provides transitional housing and support services to help veterans move from homelessness to home ownership. Veterans programs that help with this transition include: permanent and transitional housing, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, peer support, medical/dental treatment and employment and educational services.

“Our veterans range in age from 19 to in their 70s,” says Nathan Hanford, the artist-in-residence who has been heading Soldier On’s veterans art program for the past three years. “It’s getting increasingly younger,” he says. “We have Vietnam-era veterans to a lot of younger vets under age 30.”

Hanford, a former dancer, became a fiber artist after an accident ended his dance career. His major art form is embroidered images on antique table linens, as his canvas.

So far, about 120 veterans have participated in the arts program, with Hanford teaching an hour-long art class two days a week in Pittsfield and three days a week in Northampton. Hanford has a fine arts background, and honed his skills while living in New York City and in London. But if a veteran pursues an art form he’s not comfortable with, “there are plenty of people willing to help offer their talents,” he said.

“I didn’t ever foresee having this career with vets in the arts,” said Hanford. But Hanford has found that more arts organizations are open to working with the program’s veterans. These include The Mount, the Norman Rockwell Museum, Shakespeare & Co., and Jacob’s Pillow. “People want to be a good neighbor to the veterans that we serve,” he said. “People really feel very strongly about veterans’ issues — homeless vets, in particular.

“Most of these men and women have never pursued arts,” he said. “Soldier On provided me a budget to get materials to those that need them. It forms a strong bond for them to get out of their (transitional) apartments and into the community.”

Artwork by Jeremiah Grimm at Salmon Falls Gallery. RECORDER staff/DIANE BRONCACCIO

Artwork by Jeremiah Grimm at Salmon Falls Gallery. RECORDER staff/DIANE BRONCACCIO

Hanford said learning art skills and making art “starts building something greater than where they’re at.” Hanford said art gives the men and women another way to reflect on their experiences and their lives.

“No one ever gave me a compliment for making something beautiful out of nothing,” is one comment Hanford has heard participants say. He said making art “gives them a step toward being safe, clean and stable.”

Long-time students also help others as they gain more experience; when Hanford is unable to be at a class, the more experienced students will get out the art materials for the others.

Purchase benefits artists

The veterans’ paintings on display at the Salmon Falls Gallery, 1 Ashfield St., are for sale, with the asking prices selected by the artists themselves. The gallery has donated the exhibition space and all proceeds from the sale of any artwork will go directly to the artists.

Hanford also has an exhibit of his embroidered work, “Friendship Thread: Portraits of Friends both Near and Far,” with 20 percent of any sales from those works to benefit Soldier On.

Winter hours for the gallery, through April, are Friday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

To read more click here.

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Albany County Correctional Veteran Pod featured on NBC News

Prisons Experiment With Cell Blocks for Military Vet

By Tracy Connor

There’s never been a fight on the wing. And when an inmate from another wing attacked a correction officer inside the pod last September, video cameras showed the veterans running out of their cells — not to pile on, but to stop the assault.

There’s never been a fight on the wing. And when an inmate from another wing attacked a correction officer inside the pod last September, video cameras showed the veterans running out of their cells — not to pile on, but to stop the assault.

“I don’t think that would have happened on any other tier,” Apple said.

Kyle Weber, 27, who served in the Air Force from 2008 to 2009 and arrived at the pod in October after violating his probation during a dispute with a relative, uses an unexpected phrase to describe the experience: “I feel safe here.”

Weber, who has a diagnosed mental illness, said the self-discipline and brotherhood on the unit surprised him until he thought about the inmates’ shared military background.

“We all fought for something bigger than ourselves,” he said. “This is the best worst thing that ever happened to me.”

Kyle Weber is part of the "veteran pod" at the Albany County Jail in upstate New York. He calls it the "best worst thing" that ever happened to him.

Kyle Weber is part of the “veteran pod” at the Albany County Jail in upstate New York. He calls it the “best worst thing” that ever happened to him.

The Albany County pod, among the first in the nation, is an experiment that reflects the goodwill of the public toward men and women who served the nation, and a shift in criminal justice policies away from the purely punitive.

There are similar programs in prisons and jails across the country — from Arizona, where inmates raise the flag every morning, to Washington state, where they train service dogs for vets returning home with PTSD — but they cover only a small fraction of the estimated 180,000 incarcerated veterans nationwide.

“They’re popping up everywhere,” said Scott Swaim, the division director of Justice for Vets, who is familiar with such pods through his advocacy for veteran treatment courts.

“I think there’s value to it. Military culture is really important and vet-to-vet support works best because all the conversations are shortened. We came from the same foundation. Everybody went through boot camp.”

Because veterans-only cell blocks are so new, official recidivism rates — which typically look at how many inmates are re-arrested in a three-year or five-year period — are scarce. But anecdotally, corrections officials say, pod populations are better behaved inside and less likely to be re-incarcerated after release.

“I don’t even lock up my locker,” said Steve Varnadore, 51, an Army veteran who is in a 125-bed minimum custody veterans dorm in Tucson, Arizona, serving a five-year drug sentence. “You wouldn’t think about coming to a prison to meet really good people, but I’ve met some really good people in my pod.”

Incarcerated veterans prepare the Stars and Stripes for the morning flag-raising at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Washington state

Incarcerated veterans prepare the Stars and Stripes for the morning flag-raising at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Washington state

The pods are program-intensive, a model that Apple agrees would probably improve the outcomes for any prison population. But he and other correction officials also note that veterans often have more education, better job prospects and more access to mental health benefits than the average inmate.

To create the Albany County unit, the jail partnered with a non-profit organization, Soldier On, that provides services for homeless veterans and opened transitional housing just down the road from the lockup. Soldier On staffers are on site 42 hours a week, their work largely paid for through U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grants that total $225,000 a year, director Jack Downing said.

There are group discussions on addiction and post-traumatic stress, psychological counseling, and one-on-one meetings to connect inmates to benefits and plan for their discharge. A chiropractor paid through private donations treats the inmates with alternative medicine techniques because, the group says, veterans are often resistant to conventional therapies.

Group counseling sessions on the veteran pod at the Albany County jail often tackle issues of post-traumatic stress and addiction

Group counseling sessions on the veteran pod at the Albany County jail often tackle issues of post-traumatic stress and addiction

Pod members can wear Soldier On t-shirts over their uniforms and they get extra time out of their cells. The jail recently started a job program that allowed one prisoner to earn thousands of dollars working at a local quarry at full pay.

“It’s still jail,” Apple said. “But we want to help them let their guard down a little bit and trust us as we want to trust them.”

The most important piece of the puzzle might be what happens after the veterans are released. Some end up in Soldier On housing; others are followed by caseworkers to make sure they see their probation officer, get drug and alcohol treatment, and have a ride to job interviews.

“Your traditional inmate would get released and get a bus token and say ‘See ya later,’ and more times than not they end up coming back, which drives that recidivism rate right back up,” Apple said.

The pod has room for 30 veterans. Some have spent years in the military; others only weeks. Some have been in trouble just once or twice, while others have rap sheets far longer than their military history.

Charles Brown, 67, estimates he’s spent 22 years of his life locked up. Jail officials said he was one of the more troublesome inmates during past stays; since he’s been in the pod, after yet another drug arrest, he’s been a model prisoner.

“This is like basic training all over again,” Brown said.

Brown was in the Air Force for just five months during the Vietnam War before getting a family-related discharge, but says he was haunted by his time working in a base morgue. Despite the brevity of his military stint, he said he’s bonded with other pod members in ways he did not in the general population.

“We all have something in common besides the criminal element,” he explained.

The Albany County pod eschews military-style activities, but other veteran units around the country have incorporated the trappings of the armed services.

In Florida, which opened dorms at five sites in 2011 to accommodate about 400 men and women, inmates paint patriotic murals and can participate in an honor guard. Washington state paired up one of its three sites with the Brigadoon Service Dogs training program; the inmates built dog houses decorated with military insignia.

Inmates in Florida's veteran dorms paint murals representing the service branches on prison wards.

Inmates in Florida’s veteran dorms paint murals representing the service branches on prison wards.

The Arizona Corrections Department established a work program at a local veterans cemetery and prepares special meals for Veterans Day and Memorial Day. It also opened a veterans’ garden where inmates are working to create a certified way-station for migrating monarch butterflies.

Deputy Warden Dionne Martinez said that 50 inmates have been released since their pod opened a year and a half ago; officials know of only one who has ended up back in custody. Now they are trying to start a program for women.

In Albany, the veteran pod often has unfilled cells. The sheriff wants to offer counties from around the state the opportunity to send veterans to do their time in the Soldier On pod.

The jail has 1,040 beds overall and is one of the largest in the state due to expansion during the crack cocaine explosion of the 1980s and a lock-’em-up approach to drug offenders, Apple said.

“I had that mentality myself,” he added. “But sooner or later, you realize we are not winning the war. We’ve got to do things differently.

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Thank you Blood Brothers!

Soldier On would like to give a HUGE Thank You to the members of the Blood Brothers band.

On Saturday, January 14, 2017 the Blood Brothers band held a benefit concert at Joanna’s Restaurant in Somers, CT on behalf of Soldier On. All proceeds from tickets sales and the various raffles were donated directly to Soldier On. The event raised over $17,500.00. Sponsors of the event include; Bee-Line Corporation, Attorney Bruce E. Devlin of Crear, Chadwell, Dos Santos & Devlin, P.C, Thomas Wilson Enterprises, Inc., JD Rivet & Co., Inc., Maybury Material Handling, Harry Grodsky & Co, Inc. and Forastiere-Smith Funeral Home.

In addition, Rock 102 mid-day host, Dan Williams, graciously MC’d the event. Williams is a former U.S. Marine.

The Band

Blood Brothers Photo
The Blood Brothers were formed in 2013 by Tim Tomko and Bruce Devlin, who are the two lead singers and also play guitar. In 2014, the two more members joined the band, Kim Cole, drummer, and Jeff Sullivan, bass and keys.  The band plays a diverse library of cover music in addition to original songs.

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Senator Edward Markey visits Pittsfield

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Left to Right: Sara Scoco Director of Soldier On Women’s Program , Jack Downing CEO of Soldier On, Senator Edward Markey, Bruce Buckley CFO of Soldier On, State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, and State Senator Adam Hinds.

On Saturday, January 7th Senator Edward Markey was in Pittsfield for the Four Freedoms Coalition March and Rally. During his time in town the Senator visited Soldier On  and toured the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community along with Massachusetts State Senator Adam Hinds, State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, and Pittsfield City Councilor At-Large Pete White.

Left to Right: John Crane Director of Case Management, Jack Downing CEO, Senator Edward Markey, Jeff Snyder,State Senator Adam Hinds, State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, and Pittsfield City Councilor At-Large Pete White.

Left to Right: John Crane Director of Case Management, Jack Downing CEO, Senator Edward Markey, Jeff Snyder,State Senator Adam Hinds, State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, and Pittsfield City Councilor At-Large Pete White.

Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community resident, Jeff Snyder, had the opportunity to share his story with the Senator and the rest of the guests when he opened up his condo for a tour.

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Berkshire Bank Announces First Exciting Assists Grant Recipient

$9,600 Grant Benefits Soldier On

PITTSFIELD, MA, December 12, 2016 – Berkshire Bank, America’s Most Exciting Bank®, is excited to announce that its Foundation, in partnership with NESN (New England Sports Network), has awarded a $9,600 grant to Soldier On through the Berkshire Bank Exciting Assists Grant program. Soldier On CFO Bruce Buckley accepted the contribution from Berkshire Bank’s Assistant Vice President of Community Engagement Gary Levante during NESN’s coverage of the Boston Bruins game on December 8.

The Exciting Assists Grant program runs through April 1, 2017 and raises funds to support three charitable causes. Berkshire Bank’s Foundation provides $100 per assist to the program. An assist is defined as a Boston player who shot, passed or deflected the puck towards the scoring teammate, or touched it in any other way which enabled the goal, meaning that they were “assisting” in the goal. During the first portion of the season Boston had 96 assists resulting in the $9,600 grant from Berkshire Bank Foundation.

Soldier On, the first nonprofit beneficiary of the Exciting Assists Grant program, has a single mission; ending homelessness amongst the nation’s veterans. Since 1994, they’ve provided homeless veterans with transitional housing and supportive services including opening the first Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community in 2010, a permanent housing cooperative that provides formerly homeless veterans with safe, sustainable, affordable housing – transitioning them from homelessness to homeownership. Soldier On is replicating this model nationally.

In addition to Soldier On, two other nonprofit organizations will receive funding during the remainder of the season including:

Birthday Wishes – provides children facing homelessness with a joyous birthday party that will brighten their special day, reduce the trauma of homelessness, and give them hope for a better future. Promotion Period: (December 8 – February 3)

Cradles to Crayons – provides children from birth through age 12, living in homeless or low-income situations, with the essential items they need to thrive at home, at school and at play, free of charge by engaging and connecting communities that have communities in need. Promotion Period: (February 4 – March 31)

About Berkshire Bank Foundation

Through foundation grants to nonprofits, scholarships to students, environmental programs, and employee volunteerism, Berkshire Bank is making a difference. Each year the Foundation donates $2 million to nonprofits throughout the Bank’s footprint and employees provide over 40,000 hours of volunteer service. Annually, 100% of the company’s employees participate in their corporate volunteer program, the highest participate rate of any company in the U.S. Berkshire Bank was named one of Massachusetts’ Most Charitable Companies by the Boston Business Journal in 2016. To learn more about Berkshire Bank Foundation, visit www.berkshirebank.com/community.

About Berkshire Bank

Berkshire Hills Bancorp (NYSE: BHLB) is the parent of Berkshire Bank, America’s Most Exciting Bank®. The Company, recognized for its entrepreneurial approach and distinctive culture, has $9 billion in assets and 99 full service branch offices in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and Pennsylvania providing personal and business banking, insurance, and wealth management services. To learn more, visit www.berkshirebank.com, call 800-773-5601 or follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Berkshire Bank is the official bank of NESN’s Boston Bruins coverage and the community partner of Boston Season at City Hall Plaza.

About NESN

NESN has consistently been one of the top-rated regional sports networks in the country with award-winning Red Sox and Bruins coverage. The network is delivered to over 4 million homes throughout the six-state New England region and an additional 5 million homes nationally as NESN National on digital and sports tiers in over 100 DMAs. Forbes Magazine recently ranked NESN as the 10th Most Valuable Sports Business Brand in the world. NESN.com is one of the Top 15 sports Web sites in the U.S. and recently launched NESN Fuel, a Web site for automotive enthusiasts. NESN’s social responsibility program, NESN Connects, is proud to support and connect its employees with charitable organizations in our communities. NESN is owned by Fenway Sports Group (owners of the Boston Red Sox) and Delaware North (owners of the Boston Bruins).

Contact: Heidi Higgins
Berkshire Bank
Phone: (413) 236-3756
E-Mail: hhiggins@berkshirebank.com

Vanessa Pesa
Berkshire Bank
Phone: 413-447-1851
E-Mail: vpesa@berkshirebank.com

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