Time To Make A Change

When I returned home from war, adjusting to civilian life was difficult.  Then, when a life-long friend, and brother of which I served with overseas, took his own life, it shook me to my core. After his tragic death, I dedicated my life to helping vets who struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Our non-profit organization, PTSD Veteran Athletes, provides veterans with a fully funded two-week introductory course in one of four extreme sports:  rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, or skiing/snowboarding.  The overall mission of our non-profit is to help veterans find a new passion in life through outdoor sports.  We firmly believe in the limitless therapeutic options and benefits available through outdoor sports and the positivity and wellness it can provide to both mental and physical health.

By encouraging veterans to discover passion in outdoor sports, it essentially allows them to better understand the complexities of their past and give them the opportunity to look forward to the possibilities of the present and future.  We approach Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) using systematic desensitation methods, also known as Graduated Exposure Therapy.  Using this technique gives veterans the opportunity to cope with mental disorders – such as PTSD and depression – by focusing their mental energy on mindful and engaging activities.

During each two-week introduction, PTSD hosts between 10 and 15 veterans at a time.  This allows them to form new supportive friendships, encourages development in their interpersonal communication skills, and reassert a sense of community and optimism.  By hosting 10-15 veterans at a time, we re-establish the connection of operating as a team – much like platoon operations.  This familiar structure more effectively forms comradery and fellowship, like that experienced during their military service.  Navy veteran, Paul Hutton, agrees: “When the stresses of the professional life and people get to be too much, I can find satisfaction through rock climbing.  I can do it alone, and I can [also] meet new people that share the interest.”

Many veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress struggle financially as well and they do not have the financial means necessary to get involved with extreme sports.  We fund all expenses of the veteran’s chosen sporting retreat, including:  travel, accommodations, and all necessary safety gear and equipment.  With the financial support of PTSD Veteran Athletes, vets who graduate from our program can continue their newfound passion long after completion of our two-week introduction course.  They will also be able to fellowship with like-minded veterans through the duration of the course – giving them the opportunity to form new friendships, hold onto a brighter outlook, and plan future outdoor sporting adventures.  Army veteran, Mike Byrnes, says, “These sports that I participate in bring me into the now by not having to think about the negative experiences that I’ve had to endure or worry about certain things in the future.”

We also give veterans opportunities to find a new and positive meaning in life with stronger direction, fellowship, and a clarified sense of purpose.  We will continuously help veterans by showing them the limitless potential of self-discovery through outdoor exploration.  We strive to help vets to more effectively approach their personal conditions and form strong, meaningful relationships with others through shared experience in outdoor sporting

In one year, approximately 8,030 veterans will have taken their own life due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  That is 22 veterans every single day; nearly one person every hour.  Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has programs that are designed to serve veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, these programs are clinical, ineffective, and sporadic.  The Salt Lake City VA Hospital system claims to provide therapeutic recreation services, yet they are unattainable for veterans in Southeast Idaho due to travel distance and waiting times. While Pocatello is home to a Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, it is understaffed and unable to serve the unique and demanding needs of the thousands of veterans living with PTSD and depression in Southeast Idaho.  According the United States Census, 16,102 veterans live in the five counties, and Fort Hall Reservation, that comprise Southeast Idaho.  The number of veteran suicides will continue to rise if help is out of reach.  Unfortunately, conditions such as those in Southeast Idaho are commonplace nationwide.

 

If you would like to learn more or get involved please visit PTSD Veteran Athletes.

 

Author: Russell Davies