A Long Island chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America is working with the Suffolk County Courts to help veterans on the wrong side of the law readjust to civilian life while treating their mental health issues.
Ralph Zanchelli is a mentor for the Suffolk County Veterans Court, a diversionary program for veterans with a history of substance abuse or mental health issues who find themselves facing criminal charges.
He says what makes the program unique is that other veterans like himself will guide and mentor those going through it. “These guys are being told that we’re there to support them, and they feel that ‘these guys really care about us,’ they make every effort to go through those programs and graduate.”
The program doesn’t end on the steps of the courthouse. Zanchelli says the mentors act as a lifeline for veterans undergoing PTSD treatment.
“They can call us, we’re available 24 hours a day.”
Zanchelli says, “It’s personal to every mentor. Because if they don’t think that way, they can’t be with us.”
In the six years the program has been in operation, the court has helped hundreds of veterans. Several have gone on to become EMTs and firefighters.