Saranac Lake treatment center specializes in vets with substance abuse

SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. (WCAX) We often hear stories of veterans returning from the battlefield with physical and mental wounds of war, including addiction. A North Country treatment center is having success helping more than 250 servicemen deal with substance abuse.

At St. Joseph's treatment center in Saranac Lake is the Merkel Veterans Residences, home to 25 vets with an extensive waiting list. Our Kelly O'Brien was able to speak with a veteran to see what the center has done for him. Because St. Joseph's policies do not allow us to reveal his name or go on camera, we'll call him Tommy H.

"I've made more progress in six months than I have in three years of recovery," said Tommy H.

The soldier served stateside in the U.S. Army for three years and was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas. Since his discharge he says he has faced another battle. "Opioids, that's my biggest vice, but crack cocaine, meth, all of it," he said.

Tommy has been to different facilities along the East Coast, but in February he was recommended to check out St Joseph's. He says the reason this facility is different than the rest is the bond of veterans living and talking together. "Being in other treatment facilities before with other civilians, it was hard for me to open up," he said.

The story of addiction is something these veterans know all too well. "Unfortunately, it starts actually before they get out of the service," said Samuel Hall, St. Joseph's director of veterans programs. Addiction he says that is often caused from the longer lasting effects of battle. "You have this soldier that survived it, thank God, but unfortunately carries this pain and disfigurement."

"It's not a question of getting them not to be addicted, it's a question of getting them to be connected to positive things," said Bob Ross, St. Joseph's president.

Since it opened five years ago, officials say the facility has seen changes from one generation to another of of patients. "In general, the older gentleman -- most of them are alcohol-related. The younger gentleman are more other substance related," Hall said.

For patients like Tommy, the center has served as a light, to guide them out of the darkness.