James Cusack, CASAC, may have 60 years of sobriety and more than 45 as a pioneering leader of the treatment field, but minutes before receiving the prestigious Father Joseph C. Martin Award on Sept. 30 he was just as comfortable talking about the here-and-now as he was in sharing war stories. In an interview with Addiction Professional at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD), Cusack remarked several times on a 300-participant walk and vigil on Long Island this past Friday night, where individuals tried to take back a community invaded by deadly addiction in young people.
“The young people are really going to be our salvation,” said Cusack, 83, founder of Veritas Villa in Kerhonkson, N.Y. (now the nonprofit Villa Veritas Foundation). In fact, Cusack says he is seeing evidence that younger generations are breathing new life into a 12-Step movement that he sometimes sees watered down by too much of an emphasis on medication treatments in the professional field.
Cusack was presented with the annual Father Joseph C. Martin Award for Professional Excellence by Steve Kendrick, Father Martin’s Ashley’s chief operating officer, who cited Cusack’s involvement in issues ranging from developing credentialing and treatment standards in New York state to helping to launch the concept of post-treatment recovery housing. Cusack and his wife Sue also were the first treatment administrators in New York to house alcoholics and drug-addicted individuals in the same residential program.
While Cusack has received numerous honors over the years, the Father Martin’s Award is particularly fitting because of the passion for 12-Step treatment that Fr. Joseph Martin and Cusack shared, as well as the fact that the two studied addictions together at Rutgers University in the early 1970s.
He told the Sunday morning NCAD audience that Fr. Martin always wanted to spend ample time with program staff when he visited a treatment facility, encouraging their proper behavior in working with the addicted. Cusack proudly acknowledged several members of the Villa Veritas Foundation team in attendance at the NCAD meeting.
“When you’re running a facility and working in this thing, it’s the staff that you have that makes the difference,” Cusack said in his remarks at the award presentation.
Cusack describes the first years of his sobriety in his 20s as a time of dissatisfaction despite operating a successful trucking business. “For the first five years I was not a happy camper; I was not one of those grateful alcoholics,” he said. Chance meetings that followed personal losses in his life would lead him to the addiction treatment field, but he always approached the next professional challenge in almost a trial-and-error fashion, willing simply to see where else God would take him if the present task didn’t work out.
Almost 50 years later, Jim and Sue are positioned to leave a legacy of treatment leadership, as the establishment of the nonprofit foundation about two years ago has brought on long-term financial stability and the capacity to expand the physical facility. But Jim Cusack says he has no plans to retire from his involvement with the operation.
“I’ve been told that I’ve touched a lot of people’s lives,” Cusack said to NCAD attendees. “But I think it’s been the reverse. I’ve been privileged to be touched by other people.”