Court programs serve area veterans

WARREN — In July 2015, Trumbull County Probate Judge James Fredericka started the Veterans Assistance Program to help veterans facing non-violent misdemeanor criminal charges get their life back on track.

“Rather than punishing them, we try to address their problems because many of them have PTSD, depression or other service-related issues that are at the root of their criminal behavior,” Fredericka said.

He said the Veterans Assistance Program team works closely with the misdemeanor court judges to develop a treatment plan with the assistance of Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board Director April Caraway, Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission Director Herm Breuer and representatives from the 910th Airlift Wing at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station. Volunteer mentors also provide support and guidance to the veterans as they navigate the program.

The program lasts from six months to a year, depending on the individual, but can last longer if needed.

“People in the military are used to structure and when they get out, they lose that structure and sometimes lose their way. We give them back that structure and discipline so they can become productive members of society,” Fredericka said.

Amie Prezioso, deputy probate court clerk and case manager for the Veterans Assistance Program, said she works with veterans all the time and most are hesitant to ask for help. However, once they are in the program, they embrace it.

Fredericka said 57 veterans have graduated from the program since its inception. Most of them are from Desert Storm and Iraq. He also acknowledged some do not complete the program.

In addition to the Veterans Assistance Program, the probate court also offers the Guardian Angels program, which was founded in 2002 by former Trumbull County Probate Judge Thomas Swift. This program pairs volunteers with residents of nursing homes to act as the “eyes and ears” of the court, especially when no family members are in town to ensure their well-being.

The volunteers make visits or they can call the elderly or disabled individual on the phone for regular conversations. The Guardian Angels also host large-scale events for seniors, such as sock hops, holiday parties and concerts. This year, the angels want to bring elderly residents to Packard Music Hall for the Packard Band’s free Veterans Day concert, according to Guardian Angels volunteer coordinator Patty Hovanic.

“It is very rewarding to work with our elderly residents, especially the veterans,” Hovanic said. “Our angels will come back from visiting one and say ‘you have to hear this story.'”

Out of these probate court programs — which both serve many veterans — grew the Trumbull County Veterans History Project. The national Veterans History Project was created by Congress in 2000 and allows veterans to tell their military stories for submission to the American Folklife Center of the National Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The oral history project sought members of the National Court Reporters Association to transcribe audio interviews into a database for research and historic preservation.

However, submissions are accepted from anyone 15 and older.

Some of the submissions — those considered to have a high level of interest for research — are digitized and video also is included with those veterans’ stories. Trumbull County Probate Court reporter Debbie Sabat said about 40 percent of the Library of Congress submissions are digitized.

“I knew the judge’s passion for veterans, so I wanted to bring this project to Trumbull County,” Sabat said.

Since doing so, Sabat said four veterans have been interviewed, including three who resided at Washington Square Nursing Home, for inclusion in the Library of Congress collection. All four were found through either the Guardian Angels or Veterans Assistance programs.

She said the transcriptions do not have to be submitted to D.C. Copies of the transcripts are given to family members to pass down through generations.

The four local veterans interviewed for the project include:

∫ Joseph Poptic, who was the oldest Marine Corps veteran in Trumbull County when he died in July 2018 at the age of 98.

∫ Donald Burchett, an Army veteran who served in Korea, who died several weeks after his interview, according to Sabat. His family received his transcription, but Burchett never got to see the finished product.

∫ Ronald Felts, a Vietnam veteran.

∫ James Werner of Bristol, 98, a World War II Army veteran who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked.

None of the four local veterans’ stories have been digitized, but their stories can be found at www.loc.gov/vets by searching for their names. The Library of Congress database includes the person’s name, years of service, conflict served, branch, unit, where they served and rank.

Sabat said her family does not have a military background, so she loves hearing the veterans’ stories.

“They just did what they had to do,” Sabat said.

mkosinski@tribtoday.com

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