“There is light at the end of the tunnel if you ask for help” – PMCN Testimonial

Laureen and Steve reached out to Peak Military Care Network (PMCN) for assistance with paying their utility bill. They are both veterans: Laureen served in the United States Army, and Steve served in the United States Marine Corps.

Laureen and SteveSteve is a combat veteran, drafted in November of 1971 and was discharged in 1975. Steve mentioned he is a very prideful man “and to reach out for help is real hard.”  He retired from the workforce early due to physical conditions and is on a fixed income, receiving social security with no other benefits. His wife, Laureen, is currently job searching. With her Bachelor’s in social work and starting her Master’s, she is hoping to continue to network with people she knows in the community to find something to help with the budget. “We were struggling. We had extra family members [move in with us], we had people who were renting from us who have had trouble paying us, and we needed help with our utility bill. Being a veteran and my husband being a veteran, we wanted to come here and see if you guys [could] help us.” Laureen found out about PMNC through calling 2-1-1.

“I have something that has [been] lifted off my shoulders, and I see a light at the end of the tunnel to where I can visualize that things are going to be okay,” said Steve. When asked what he would say to another veteran who may be struggling he responded, “If they are anything like me they probably wouldn’t ask for help, but if they do then I would have to recommend your organization.”

Laureen expressed that no one should be afraid to ask for help, “I am grateful and blessed that we live in a place here where there are so many different organizations and that you can reach out. A lot of times it’s not just one time that you have to reach out, it’s a couple different times that you have to, to get a sense of stability.”

Steve said he knows that PMCN is a network, and so if someone reached out for help, PMCN can find assistance out there for them. “Reach out and ask for the help. It’s the only way it’s going to work. There is light at the end of the tunnel if you ask for help.”

 

If you are a service member, veteran or family member looking for resources from the community, reach out to Peak Military Care Network (PMCN) at 719-577-7417 or info@pmcn.org.

Visit www.pmcn.org to learn more.

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The Sturm Center: Improving the Quality of Life and Behavioral Health of Veterans, Service members and their Families

Contributed by Scotty Hanley, M.A. & Dani Hamilton, M.A.

The Sturm Center, a University of Denver student-operated clinic for military members, Veterans, and their families, has been open for almost two years and is centrally located in Aurora, Colorado. The Sturm Center is a behavioral health clinic that offers a full range of behavioral health needs with a sole focus on the Military/Veteran population. The graduate students who conduct assessment and treatment of clients at The Sturm Center are doctoral-level students who are supervised by licensed Clinical Psychologists with extensive experience with this population.

Sturm Center 2.jpgNew visitors will notice the simple beauty and aesthetics of the clinical space. This includes individual therapy rooms, a designated children’s room, a waiting area, as well as a spacious group room that can comfortably accommodate team building, yoga classes, or family therapy. The space is neat, crisp, and decorated with military-related artwork. Natural light pours through the westward facing windows which showcase beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains. This clinic has been designed to create a space that allows for relaxation, recovery and a sense of community. The space is set up to accommodate the majority of behavioral health services required by our Servicemembers, Veterans, or their family members. Within the space, the clinic offers:

  • Psychological Assessment (for academic/employment accommodations, objective medical evidence for disability claims, diagnostic and/or treatment purposes)
  • Psychological Treatment (all ages, evidence-based, individual, family/couples & group)
  • Referral to Complementary Medicine resources (equine therapy, yoga, outdoor therapy)

A client’s ability to receive services does not hinge on discharge status, combat service, era of service or activation/drill status. Veterans are not required to provide their DD214, though a copy will be added to the client’s record if they have this readily accessible. Additionally, an individual’s income, diagnosis or identity will not influence the quality or quantity of services available to them.

Potential clients can easily seek services at the Sturm Center by calling in for an initial phone screen at (303)-871-7942.  If the client decides they want to proceed and the clinic seems to be appropriate for the client’s needs, the Veteran, Service member or family member completes several consultation sessions with their newly assigned provider.  After these consultation sessions, client(s) receive any relevant assessment and treatment; through a process designed with the specific individual client in mind, assessment and treatment options are discussed thoroughly and openly to allow for the most informed choice by the client.

Sturm CenterThe creation of The Sturm Center came after a generous gift by The Sturm Family Foundation in 2015 to the Graduate School of Professional Psychology. Because of this partnership, The University of Denver was able to expand its top-ranked clinical psychology training program and create a new learning opportunity for graduate students. Given the need for highly-trained, culturally and scientifically competent healthcare providers, The Sturm Center allows students to apply their classroom training to hands-on learning scenarios within this clinic while simultaneously delivering closely-monitored, confidential, high-quality, evidence-based services to Military/Veterans and their families. Some of the graduate students at The Sturm Center are Service members, family members, and/or Veterans of the U.S. and other nations’ militaries. The common thread amongst all students operating The Sturm Center is the dedication to contributing to the active duty, guard/reserve, veteran, and military family communities.

The Sturm Center would like to thank Veterans, Servicemembers, and their families for their dedication, heart, and commitment to our country. We would like to thank you for all that you have sacrificed; it does not go unnoticed. We are happy to give back to the military community with our sincerest respect and commitment. The Sturm Center and The Graduate School of Professional Psychology are proud to train future Clinical Psychologists to increase the quality of life and enhance the health of Military/Veteran communities.

The Sturm Center address is 10730 E. Bethany Drive, Ste. 395; Aurora, CO 80014. 

Please see our website at: https://www.du.edu/gspp/services/sturm/index.html.

Feel free to contact us at (303)-871-7942 with any questions, concerns, referrals or requests for services.

Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center- Meeting the Needs of Southern Colorado for 36 Years

Contributed by Melissa Anthony, Development Coordinator, Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center
Msision: Utilizing the unique and therapeutic attributes of the horse, the mission of Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center is to serve those with diverse needs, empower change,foster resilience, and nurture whole health through sustainable and innovative programs.

PPTRCPikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center (PPTRC), a 501(3)C nonprofit organization, is a community of individuals dedicated to providing equine assisted therapeutic services to those with a varied set of disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, amputation, paralysis, post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression, and others. PPTRC offers services to children, seniors, service members and veterans in two locations: Latigo Trails Equestrian Center located just east of Colorado Springs, CO and PPTRC’s Dom Cimino Center at Norris Penrose located in Colorado Springs proper. The experiential equine assisted services provided are designed to meet the unique needs of each individual. With an understanding of the stigmas sometimes associated with disabilities, our team collaborates to provide a nurturing environment that is centered on client engagement and inclusion.

“I get on a horse and I’m back to having my freedom. When someone sees me on a horse they don’t see me as a disabled person, they see me as an equestrian.” PPTRC Client

Central to successful outcomes is the building of trusting relationships between the client, PPTRC specially trained and certified staff and the therapy horse. Therapies promote hope, healing, empowerment and improved self-sufficiency impacting clients both physically and emotionally. As an emerging treatment modality, Equine Assisted Activities and Therapy are increasingly recognized as a valuable and truly unique option for those who may not have experienced desired results in traditional therapies.

“PPTRC and their equine therapy program for military personnel are what finally helped me break the downward spiral of PTSD.” PPTRC client

Since 2000, Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center has held the distinction of being the only Premier Accredited Center in the region with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). This voluntarily obtained designation ensures that PPTRC continually provides only the highest levels of quality and safety to each client served.

5 Reasons Why Equine Assisted Services Impact Lives:

1. The inclusion of the horse, along with evidence-based therapeutic theories and practices, helps remove the stigma surrounding traditional mental health therapy.
2. Horses reproduce the natural walking motion of a human being, and are able to reintegrate and resequence the neurological inputs to an individual lacking them.
3. Horses are intuitive and reflective of human behavior, and react to clients’ moods and feelings.
4. Working with a horse teaches self awareness, and promotes the idea of being focused and present in the moment.
5. Veterans find horses easily relatable because they operate on a fight-or-flight instinct, similar to those addressing PTSD.

Since its inception in 1981, PPTRC has continued to grow and evolve in response to the changing needs of the community. Through partnerships with medical professionals, hospitals and mental health facilities, PPTRC has answered the call to service. Initially a small organization offering assisted riding lessons that supported those with rehabilitative needs, PPTRC has expanded services provided to encompass many varied needs and address numerous physical and mental health challenges. PPTRC remains committed to serving those in need and continues to foster a culture of innovation as an industry leader.

Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center Programs:

HippotherapyHippotherapy
Derived from the Greek “hippo”, this therapy encompasses physical, occupational, or speech therapy that is part of an integrated treatment plan to achieved targeted outcomes. Led by a specially trained and licensed physical, speech or occupational therapist, this therapy utilizes the three-dimensional movement of the horse to influence the rider physically and neurologically. Hippotherapy increases core strength, muscle memory, flexibility, balance, independence, cognitive abilities and more.

Theraputic RidingTherapeutic Riding
This is an adaptive horseback riding lesson taught by a certified therapeutic riding instructor to increase the cognitive, physical and emotional well-being of the rider. Riders learn to influence the actions of the horse in a manner that addresses physical, emotional and cognitive needs. Activities performed from horseback are included to both engage the client and address needs.

Equine Assisted therapyEquine Assisted Therapy
This mental health therapy allows participants to learn to honestly assess their own emotions and behaviors to improve interactions with the horse. Through this engagement, the client learns social and relationship skills. Licensed mental health therapists help clients translate the skills learned working with therapy horses into everyday life and interactions.

As a member of the R4 Alliance, PPTRC proudly works to maximize the potential of our military families by addressing the physical and invisible emotional scars our veterans bear, as well as the various needs of military families. Countless breakthroughs have occurred as a result of the remarkable relationships that have developed between clients and therapy horses.

**UPDATE:

Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center (PPTRC) is offering an Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) group for those with TRICARE coverage at our Dom Cimino Center at Norris Penrose Event Center. In EAT, we work with horses and use groundwork and horsemanship activities specifically to increase self-awareness and re-pattern any maladaptive behaviors, feelings and attitudes. In relationships and families, this allows for clearer communication, a strengthening of bonds, and overall resilience through life’s ups and downs. Registration is required and space is limited- please contact Chester DeAngelis at deangelis@pptrc.org or 719-495-3908 for more details.

For more information about Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center, services provided, or to volunteer, visit our website at: PPTRC.org

Suicide—Data, Theories and Actions

Contributed by Stephen E. Dannenbaum, Ph.D., Vice President, Behavioral Health, United Healthcare Military & Veterans

In September, PMCN helped to plan and sponsor the VA Mental Health Conference here in Colorado Springs.  The following report is based on a presentation by Stephen Dannenbaum, PhD, Vice President Behavioral Health, UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans. The report provides data and clinical insight into suicide rates, causes, and prevention steps in active service member and veteran populations.

The Data

Today we see over 46,000 suicides per year in the general population; a  number  that  increases  by  around  10  percent year over year, dwarfing the homicide rate of just over 20,000. This  translates  into  one  suicide  every  15  minutes  or  95  per day. Suicide is much more likely in the Western half of the United States with these states occupying eight of the top 10 states (Alaska being number one). While men are four times more likely than women to die from suicide, women   are three times more likely to make a suicide attempt. And while suicide generally increases with age, in the typical high school classroom one male and two females have probably attempted suicide in the past year. “Attempts” are a key factor in understanding suicide risk.

With respect to current service members and veterans, rates have steadily increased over the past decade with rates per 100,000 as high as 17-20, whereas the national average is 11.5 for young adult males. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can increase this rate six-fold.  While the Military Health System has implemented a variety of prevention initiatives, in many cases the results have not kept pace with the increasing rates. Moreover, it appears that veterans are particularly susceptible to an increased risk due to the use of alcohol and prescription drugs.

Finally, suicide risk is high for 30 days after an acute psychiatric hospital discharge and while for post-discharge from an inpatient acute psychiatric facility suicide is most frequent in the first two weeks, most suicides occur on the first day after discharge. These facts speak to the critical importance of post-discharge planning as a central part of inpatient treatment. Inpatient suicide risk factors include, but are not limited to: high lengths of stay and multiple prior admissions, prior suicide attempts, depression, family history of suicide, recent bereavement, being single and living alone.

Approaches and Theories of Suicide

For many years,  most  behavioral  health  care  professionals have been trained in what we might call the “Classical” approach to suicide. This includes key predictive markers of Intent (how clear and imminent are suicidal thoughts?), Means (how lethal and available are the methods for suicide?), and the Plan (how specific and well thought are the plans?). This is a very reactive approach, not that dissimilar from calling the Fire Department after flames are seen.

A more recent theory has been researched and put forth by Dr. Thomas Joiner (2005) and featured in his book, “Why People Die by Suicide.” Dr. Joiner’s work has strong research support and puts forth the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide which is more akin to detecting smoke signals rather than reacting to flames. The theory posits that there are two key factors to consider; the acquired ability to inflict self-harm, and the desire for suicide. Within the desire component are the components of Perceived Burdensomeness and Thwarted Belongingness. Where these components or factors overlap exists the greatest risk for suicide. The graphic below best illustrates this model:

Suicide chart

The first component, Acquired Ability (for self-harm) is learned by direct and vicarious exposure to pain, danger,   and training such as might be received in the military. This explains which veterans, first responders, physicians, victims of physical abuse and other harm-related individuals are at higher risk. It also explains why those with previous, unsuccessful suicide attempts are at greater risk.

Unfortunately, we cannot unlearn capability. Once acquired it cannot be un-acquired.

However, the Desire for Suicide and its component parts, Perceived Burdensomeness and Thwarted Belongingness are perceptual or cognitive in nature and can be addressed through therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which confronts irrational and erroneous beliefs. It is easy to understand by a service member returning from a deployment might feel like a burden on their family or support system, or why they might feel they just don’t belong.  The good news is the perception of being a burden is just that—“a perception” and is more often than not, wrong. Similarly, the perception of belongingness is a cluster of thoughts that can be challenged and modified through Cognitive Therapy, as well as behavioral interventions such as expanding the individual’s support system.

In sum, the Interpersonal Theory offers many more opportunities to prevent suicide by looking at these early predictive factors, rather than waiting for the situation to “erupt into flames.”

Actions

Finally, when working with an individual suffering from suicidal ideation and desire there are some very specific and concrete steps that can be taken. While there have been mixed perspectives on the effectiveness of suicide contracts, there is greater consensus that detailed alternative-to-suicide plans can be very effective. A Coping Card simply involves the development of a straightforward crisis plan that can be written down on the back of a business card, a 3×5-inch index card, or a sheet of paper. An example would be, “When I’m upset and thinking of suicide, I’ll take the following steps:   1) Call a  Friend,  2) Exercise,  3)  Listen to music,” and additional very specific interventions. Contact numbers for suicide hotlines, close friends, and mental health professionals must be included as well. It is very important to have the individual sign the Coping Card as there is research to indicate that people are almost twice as likely to follow through on a commitment if they sign their name to it.

In summary, suicide is still an ever-growing, very serious problem, particularly for service members and veterans. Fortunately, there are new and promising models of suicide prevention that offer both mental health professionals, family members and others new ways to address individuals who are suffering from thoughts of self-harm, at an earlier stage in the process, well before a crisis emerges.

This article originated from the United Healthcare “TRICARE West Region Military & Veterans Monthly”

UHC_ID_MilitaryAndVet_CMYK

Rocky Mountain Human Services’ Homes for All Veterans Program: Efforts to End Veteran Homelessness

 

Contributed by RMHS Communications

“There is no place in the [U.S.] where someone working full time at the federal minimum wage can afford a modest one bedroom apartment, and the majority of renting families who live below the poverty line spend at least half of their income on housing costs. As a result, millions of families experience housing insecurity, and teeter on the brink of homelessness, one financial challenge or a lost job away from living on the street or shelter.” – Heartland Alliance 2017 Report

Rocky Mountain Human Services’ Homes for All Veterans (HAV) program is funded by the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) that was founded on the principle that every veteran has a right to safe, permanent housing. Dedicated to ending veteran homelessness, the HAV program provides outreach, case management, and support accessing community and mainstream resources to more than 1,000 veteran households each year who are experiencing literal homelessness or in danger of homelessness throughout the state of Colorado.

RMHS_Logo_(Homes_for_All_Veterans_2017)HAV Program Manager for southern Colorado, Alison Gerbig, shares that “the SSVF program is designed to help our veterans and their families quickly access and obtain safe, stable housing in order to better support them in developing connections and resources in the community to maintain housing.”

In the past, HAV’s priority was to encourage the veterans to focus their time first on solely obtaining housing then focusing on employment and other needed supports. However, the current high rental market in Colorado has caused rental rates to increase and rental requirements to change drastically, shifting the priority to securing employment in conjunction with securing housing. Per monthly data reports by RMHS/HAV, the average time to house a veteran in the program is about 45 days. Heartland Alliance (Schnur, Warland, Young & Maguire, 2017) reports that it “takes the average jobseeker 25 – 27 weeks to obtain employment.” However, veterans who experience homelessness often face additional barriers that can cause them to face even longer periods of unemployment and homelessness. Criminal records, lack of basic skills, and poor job history or gaps of employment can quickly disqualify them from getting a job and/or housing, and often the typical employment setting can be too rigid and overwhelming for someone who spent last night on the streets or in a shelter, or for a veteran dealing with trauma.

Through experience and a person-centered groundwork for support, the dedicated staff of HAV have worked to develop a better understanding of veteran-specific barriers and needs and improve their processes to best support the specific needs of their clients. Today, the team embraces tools from trauma-informed care and utilizes motivational interviewing practices to provide services and support that are sensitive and avoid overwhelming situations or actions.

Part of these efforts include the Veteran Employment and Housing Orientation classes held at HAV’s Veteran Housing Resource Center in Colorado Springs every Monday morning. This class provides access to information and resources designed to address the realities of obtaining housing in Colorado Springs coupled with the increased importance of employment designed to support veterans who are experiencing homelessness.

HAV is grounded in the philosophy of not duplicating resources, therefore cultivates community partnerships to promote success for veterans in the program. They invite partners to speak at orientation classes and utilize services as a way to provide further resources. Pikes Peak Workforce’s Financial Coach speaks about housing income and expense information supporting veterans to start planning their goals and next steps toward housing. The Department of Human Services’ Income Maintenance Tech connects veterans to benefits while they are searching for employment. The Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Specialists at Pikes Peak Workforce Center (PPWFC) act as a resource, offering intensive services for veteran employment. In addition, the team invites employers and landlords to connect veterans with opportunities to meet their individual employment and housing goals.

When a veteran does obtain housing and exits the program, although they may still be considered rent-burdened (paying more than 30-40% of their income toward housing costs), the goal is to support them into a home, teach them about the tools and resources to be able to maintain their home and employment, and to assist them in creating a plan in case their income decreases or they risk returning to homelessness. Supporting the veteran to break down barriers and achieve individual goals, the HAV team and community partners collectively work to end veteran homelessness one home and one job opportunity at a time.

You can find more information about our Homes for All Veterans program on our website, or by participating in monthly Community Advisory Council on Veteran Homelessness meetings. The meetings are open to those who are interested in learning about the community of Colorado Spring’s efforts, successes, and opportunities to end veteran homelessness. Landlords, employers, community partners, and interested citizens are always welcome to come to join us in our efforts to end veteran homelessness:

Community Advisory Council on Veteran Homelessness (CACVH)
Third Friday of each month
9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Veteran Housing Resource Center
17 S. Weber Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80903

References:

Schnur, C., Warland, C., Young, M., & Maguire, T. (2017). Integrating rapid re-housing & employment: Program & policy recommendations for enhancing rapid re-housing. Chicago, IL: Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity.

The VA and Colorado Springs Community Discuss Suicide Prevention

Contributed by Amanda Nurmi, Community Outreach Coordinator, PMCN

Community organizations came together last week for the VA Mental Health Summit and one of the main topics of conversation was suicide prevention. There were five panelists with strong and important messages, the main one being that people need support systems and cannot/should not have to go through these tough times alone.

Tammy Hopman, Suicide Prevention Coordinator for ECHCS VA, talked about how the feeling of loneliness kills more people than a heart attack. Hopman also spoke about Thomas Joiner’s three key motivational aspects, which contribute to suicide: 1) a sense of being a burden to others, 2) a profound sense of loneliness, alienation and isolation, and 3) a sense of fearlessness.

IMG_4009
VA Mental Health Summit Pannelists (left to right: Tammy Hopman, Joshua Kreimeyer, Waymon Stallcup, Katie Civiletto, and the moderator, Adam Hoffberg)

Joshua Kreimeyer, Regis University, discussed the effective preventive measures the Division of Counseling and Family Therapy at the University utilize to help military families come together and build strong, positive relationships. They host a Welcome Home Warrior Retreat where military families can go away for a couple of days together and bond. Building relationships with each other and the other families.

The Vet Center pointed out  that there are many resources for the veteran, but not for the spouses, “you need to be in the safety plan because you are a big part of it, and a good part of it”, stated Waymon Stallcup, Readjustment Counseling Therapist at the Vet Center. The Vet Center has veterans and their families create safety plans that work for them and their lifestyles to ensure they are creating positive situations. Stallcup reiterated that the three rules they have for their veterans is “self-care, self-care and self-care.”

Give an Hour discussed the Campaign to Change Direction, changing the culture of mental health and encouraging people to pay attention to their emotional well-being. Katie Civiletto, Project Specialist at Give an Hour, stated the population needs to change the conversation around mental health and start to pay attention to the warning signs of someone needing help.

Overall, the community gathered at this daylong event to discuss productive and realistic ways we should, and are, rallying together to ensure our military and veterans are receiving the assistance they need. Suicide takes the lives of approximately 20 veterans a day, and the community will not stop until that number is down to zero.

Honor and Empower with the Wounded Warrior Program

Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) serves veterans and service members who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness, or wound, co-incident to their military service on or after September 11, 2001 and their families.

With advancements in battlefield medicine and body armor, an unprecedented percentage of service members are surviving severe wounds or injuries. For every US soldier killed in World Wars I and II, there were 1.7 soldiers wounded. In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, for every US soldier killed, seven are wounded. Combined, over 48,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in the recent military conflicts.

In addition to the physical wounds, it is estimated as many as 400,000 service members live with the invisible wounds of war including combat-related stress, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 320,000 are believed to have experienced a traumatic brain injury while on deployment.

With the mission to honor and empower Wounded Warriors, WWP is the hand extended to encourage warriors as they adjust to their new normal and achieve new triumphs. Offering a variety of programs and services, WWP is equipped to serve warriors with every type of injury – from the physical to the invisible wounds of war.

The WWP Alumni program is your point of entry to the many free Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) programs, services, and events available to you and your family. During military service, warriors form bonds with one another that are as strong as family ties. The Alumni program helps veterans to reform relationships by providing opportunities to connect with one another, programs, and their communities. From recreational activities and sporting events to professional development opportunities and community service projects, there’s something for everyone. Because we understand the value a thriving family life can have, we also host numerous family- and spouse-focused events.

WWP1Physical Health and Wellness (PH&W) programs for veterans are designed to reduce stress, combat depression, and promote an overall healthy and active lifestyle by encouraging participation in fun, educational activities. When wounded warriors commit to making a positive change in their physical recovery, WWP is ready to help. Goal-setting, coaching, skill-building, physical training, and other opportunities provide the resources warriors need to make long-term changes toward a healthy life.

WWP3Soldier Ride is a unique four-day cycling opportunity for wounded service members and veterans to use cycling and camaraderie to overcome physical, mental, or emotional wounds. The rides are exhilarating and a great way to help warriors gain confidence and realize you can do this!

Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) provides free programs and services to address the needs of wounded warriors and fill gaps in government care. The demand for our programs and services has grown from serving a handful of injured veterans to now serving tens of thousands, and we continue to receive hundreds of new registrations from injured veterans, heir families, and caregivers each month.

Contributed by Greg Monck, Alumni Manager, WWP

Phoenix Multisport- COS

Phoenix Multisport is a sober active community that fosters a supportive environment for people in recovery, or those who choose to live a sober lifestyle. The only requirement to attend an event is 48 hours clean and sober. If an individual wishes to attend events on a regular basis, we also ask that they have a commitment to a sober lifestyle. After that, our events are free to anyone who meets these requirements. We also ask that people sign a team member agreement which includes being safe and supportive, and leaving a positive impact. We are not an alternative system of recovery, so we ask that whatever individuals are doing to get sober or stay sober, be continued, with Phoenix Multisport just adding to that piece.

PhoenixThe two main groups that we serve within the military in Colorado Springs are veterans, who come to us through the VA substance abuse program (SAP), and active duty personnel in the addiction medicine intensive outpatient (AMIOP) program at Fort Carson military base. These two groups are reached through regular outreach meetings with an employee of Phoenix Multisport. The outreach consists of a video or documentary telling how Phoenix Multisport came into existence, the culture and community that it supports, and what to expect when coming to an event. The employee then gives a small talk about their problems with addiction, how these were overcome, and what part Phoenix Multisport played and still plays in their recovery. Current monthly calendars with all the events are also shared with the class.

Our events currently include strength training, yoga, boxing, climbing, running, and soon mountain biking will also be included again. We try to stress our understanding with the stigmas associated with addiction, and to show that a happy and healthy lifestyle can still be possible, without alcohol or drugs. Not only that, but we welcome people of diverse backgrounds into our community, and try to be inclusive. Many of our members are former military, or still serve, and we thank them for that service.

Contributed by John Schneider, Colorado Springs Instructor, Phoenix Multisport

SIX THOUGHTS ON POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

Contributed by Duane France, Director of Veteran Services, Family Care Center

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Shell Shock. Battle Fatigue. Call it what you want, it’s that combination of psychological and behavioral reactions to exposure to traumatic events that people see in combat veterans. There is a lot of discussion, whether at the water cooler, kitchen table, social media, wherever, about what it is. Who has it. What can it mean for those who do have it, those who live with them, and those who work around them.

PTSDThere are a lot of misconceptions around PTSD, a lot of unknowns that cause people to jump to conclusions. While I’ve written about PTSD before, and often try to make a point that challenges that veterans experience in regard to their mental health goes far beyond PTSD, I thought that I would lay out some of my thoughts about the condition. Here are six quick thoughts that might help you understand what PTSD is, and how it impacts veterans.

Just Because a Veteran Has Been to Combat Doesn’t Mean They Have PTSD

One of the stereotypes that many in society have is that exposure to combat, or even just combat deployments, must mean that a veteran has PTSD. Witness the high-profile events over the last eighteen months in which military service members committed egregious criminal acts: the sniper-style shooting event in Dallas, the multiple homicides in Baton Rouge a week after that, or the Airport Shooting in Florida. In each of these cases, the veteran’s military experience, including deployment experience, was examined to determine if PTSD was the “cause” of their actions. Correlation is not causation, as any scientist will tell you, and the fact that a veteran deployed to a combat zone does not mean that they will automatically develop PTSD.

The fact is, there are a large number of individuals who deployed to a combat zone who never actually saw combat action. They were never shot at, they were threatened with rocket or mortar attacks, their lives were never really in danger from enemy activity. That does not mean that nothing bad ever happened when not in active combat; certainly accidents happen. I recall, as a young Soldier in Bosnia, walking from our living area to the motor pool. Everyone walked the same path; we had arrived in the winter, so the snow was trampled and worn. Guess what happened when the snow melted, however? All of the unexploded ordnance started to appear on the ground. I don’t want to make it sound dramatic and say that we had been walking through a minefield, but if the path had been ten feet to the right or left, someone would have gotten hurt or killed. The military is an inherently dangerous profession, so certainly mishaps and accidents can occur…but the individual who deployed to Kuwait in 2012 was not faced with the same danger as the group of men and women hanging off the side of a mountain in 2009. So, just because someone’s a “combat vet” doesn’t automatically mean they “have PTSD.”

PTSD Is Both a Natural AND Negative Reaction

PTSD is as much a neurological condition as it is a psycholgoical one. Studies have shown that repeated exposure to trauma results in physical areas of the brain, specifically the amygdala and the hippocampus, actually undergoing structural change. Activation of the amygdala and hippocampus combined with reduced activation and volume in the frontal lobe of the brain are indicative of veterans who display symptoms of PTSD. Therefore, the brain is adapting the way the brain should adapt to repeated traumatic exposure.  It is doing exactly what it should do when exposed to high levels of cortisol and adreneline and constant activation of these regions. Many who rail against the “D” in PTSD say, “why pathologize a natural reaction to combat?” That’s absolutely right…PTSD is precisely a natural reaction.

That doesn’t mean that it’s beneficial. There are hundreds of things that are natural reactions to our environment, and they’re still not beneficial. Allergic much? Anaphalactic shock occurs after a bee sting, it’s a reaction of one organism to a substance from another. Am I comparing PTSD to allergies? Of course not, but just because a reaction is typical for a small group of people doesn’t make it beneficial. This very natural reaction can be a debilitating condition…it’s both.

A Veteran Can Experience Challenges Even If They Don’t Have PTSD

To be clincially diagnosed with PTSD means that the individual must meet a certain set of critira. I have written about these criteria before, so you can check that out here. But not all veterans meet all the diagnostic criteria at the same time. Some veterans don’t experience nightmares or intrusive thoughts, but behaviorally isolate themselves. Or are extremely hypervigilant. At one point in their lives, or in one particular location, they can experience the mood symptoms but nothing else. Not only that, PTSD may not be the issue, but guilt or shame may be the issue. Or a lack of purpose and meaning in their lives, a substance abuse problem, relational difficulties, or any other of a number of challenges that many veterans…and many non-veterans…face.

A Veteran Can Develop PTSD from a Single Event or Multiple Events

Complex trauma as a result of exposure over an extended period of time can result in PTSD that is much different than that of a single event. Any one of us can experience PTSD after a vehicle accident or a natural disaster. As a matter of fact, these are two of the most common conditions that non-veterans would experience when it comes to developing PTSD. Complex trauma, however, occurs when multiple traumatic events happen over a period of time, or even a lifetime. As I’ve mentioned before, the military is almost a refuge for many who had a traumatic childhood, when is then compounded after exposure to trauma as an adult.

PTSD can also occur after single instances of sexual assault, which is much different than that which results from accidents or natural disasters. This form of PTSD is much more personally and physically intrusive, and layers of guilt and shame. An aspect of Military Sexual Trauma (rape or assault while in the military) was made clear to me as I attended a conference in San Francisco: MST can almost be seen as incestuous. We talk about the “Band of Brothers” and the military family, how we become closer to those we serve with than we sometimes are with our own family. Often, the perpetrators of the assault in the military are those in a position of trust, either professionally or personally. So an MST survivor has not only the trauma of the assault, but also the betrayal of trust.

A Veteran can Develop PTSD Even If They’ve Never Been to Combat

I’ve worked with veterans who have developed PTSD, but have never deployed. The 82nd Airborne Division responded to Hurricane Katrina, and had to recover the remains of their countrymen. Just that level of devastation can have a traumatizing effect. I have known, of course, service members who have been raped, as discussed above. Any event that causes threat or actual death, dismemberment, or sexual violence is described as “traumatizing” when it comes to PTSD. Having a bad experience with a supervisor while you were in the miltiary? Not PTSD. It could certainly lead to helplessness, frustration, angry outbursts, depression, and a whole host of other mental health concerns, but not PTSD.

But, as I mentioned above, the military is a dangerous profession. Parachute accidents, howitzer misfires, training accidents, each of these are potentially traumatic and could cause someone who has served to develop PTSD, even if they haven’t deployed.

A Veteran can “Have” PTSD and Still be Functional and Productive

So perhaps a veteran has been exposed to multiple traumatic events and meets the clinical definition of PTSD. Does that mean that we should write them off entirely? Of course not. The condition can be managed to the point where the veteran may not feel the challenges for months, if not years. With treatment, the veteran can absolutely manage their PTSD symptoms to the point that they can be a functional and productive member of their community, their workplace, their family.

Understanding this condition is a key factor in reducing the gap in understanding between those who have served in the military, or love those who have, and those who have not served. What questions do you have about PTSD? What do you know about it, and how can we have a conversation that can help you understand more? Reach out, comment below, and join the conversation.

See original article on Head Space and Timing.

Acknowledging the Stigma of PTSD and 4 Tips for Seeking Help​

​Contributed by an anonymous Veteran and Licensed Professional Counselor, Colorado Springs.

Recently, I was asked to offer a perspective on PTSD since June is PTSD awareness month.

The first word that came to mind was “stigma.”  The name alone, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) holds some stigma within itself by use of the term “disorder.” As a mental health provider, I do my best to defeat the stigma of seeking mental health treatment and ​support by talking about mental health as often as possible​.

​Post-traumatic stress is actually an effect that sometimes develops after exposure to trauma. Some people have higher levels of resiliency and others may have coping skills that are not as effective in resolving exposure to trauma. It is important to realize that the effect of trauma can sometimes (not always) result in the future development of PTSD.

Trauma is exposure to imminent physical or emotional danger whether directly to a person, by witnessing trauma happen to another person, or by being told the details of a traumatic event that has happened to a loved-one.

​Another area of stigma associated with PTSD is that it is a life-long “disorder.” PTSD is treatable.

4 Tips for Seeking Help (for PTSD or other mental health needs)​

There is no shame in seeking help and in fact, it takes courage to reach out for support for PTSD or any other mental health needs. When a client seeks support, it is important to know that you have full control in how your treatment process goes.

  1. Finding a Therapist

Check with your insurance provider or the VA to find a list of therapists in your network. There are also lists of therapists who provide support for veterans in the community which can be found through Peak Military Care Network. Alternatively, if you’re willing/able to pay out of pocket this is also an option. Once you’ve got your list of therapists you wish to try, call and ask the therapists on your list if you can meet them or talk on the phone with them  for a consultation to see if you might be a good fit for working together on your treatment goals. Many therapist offer initial consultations at no-cost. This can be a helpful way to get to know the person a bit before you decide to proceed with treatment.

  1. View Therapy as a Collaboration

You and your therapist work together to select a suitable course of treatment. Identify treatment goals. Ask as many questions as you would like to ask to ensure you have a clear understanding about the therapy process with your chosen (or assigned) therapist. The other reason to ask questions is to make sure you feel comfortable with the person working along side you.

  1. Be Open and Honest for Best Results

​If you feel in your gut that there is something you want to discuss–share it. Your therapist is trained to hear you out without judging you or your thoughts/feelings.

  1. ​Evaluate your Progress

Throughout your therapy process you and your therapist may check-in to evaluate what is improving, what works, what didn’t work, etc. This is helpful because it gives you a more clearly defined idea of which areas of your life are being impacted by all your hard work in therapy. This is also a good time to adjust course if needed.

As a veteran–I hope for success for other veterans. Wishing veterans success in overcoming the stigma of PTSD and mental health needs in general so that veterans can get their needs met without shame. Wishing veterans success in finding a therapist who is a good fit for you so that you may reap the benefits of a positive therapeutic relationship. And finally, wishing veterans success in healing from PTSD and any other treatable mental health needs.