Take a moment. Imagine deploying overseas in wartime with your unit, one you’ve spent every minute with for years. Now imagine you return to the United States and your unit is ordered to disband, with your siblings being reassigned to different units across the country. Can you imagine losing your innermost circle, the people who knew you best, and not knowing where to turn with your emotions?
Alex, an Army Infantryman, knows this scenario and is able to share his story due to the strength gained from his recovery treatment at White River Junction VA in Vermont and Bedford VA in Massachusetts.
Alex joined the army and served in the infantry. Upon returning from a deployment in Kuwait, the unit disbanded and the soldiers were reassigned to new units, those that were already established and whose members had undergone their own training together.
Missed the shared experiences of his military “family”
When Alex returned home after three years of service, he didn’t know where to turn or how to talk about his feelings. Opioids seemed to lessen these uncomfortable feelings. He spiraled and surrounded himself with people who enabled his opioid addiction. He pushed everyone away.
“I knew I had to change,” explained Alex. “I’ve tried many outpatient rehabs, but I never changed my environment or the people I spent my time with. If you hang out in a hair salon, you’re going to get a haircut.
Alex quickly overdosed. With encouragement from his family, he turned to VA for help. “I had no idea there were so many resources for me at VA for struggling veterans like me.”
Linda Stone of White River Junction VA, an addiction therapist and program manager at the Residential Recovery Center, explains that the people, places, things, and how you deal with your emotions are all key ingredients to good mental health and of a successful recovery.
Alex applied and was accepted into the White River Junction VA program. It is a 14-bed residential rehabilitation treatment program run by highly trained mental health and behavioral health staff. The program is located on the campus of the Vermont Medical Center and is designed to help residents gain stability in their recovery from addiction.
Helps veterans know their strengths and skills
The program also offers treatment for mental health issues, such as helping residents appreciate their individual strengths and skills as well as personal preferences that will support their recovery.
“I tell each resident that they’re on their own journey of recovery and the resident next to you is on their own journey,” Stone said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all, but a range of trips we take with each resident. What works for you may not work for me or him or her.
Stone and his team personalize the treatment, but first they want to know, “Are the alcohol or the substances creating problems that you want to do something about?” What are you ready to do? »
The program uses a model of care based on peer and professional support, with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility for one’s behavior and health – and accountability to the community. Group therapy sessions and a variety of supportive therapies – such as recreational therapy, art therapy and mindfulness – are used to promote skill development while learning strategies to better regulate emotions and reduce stress. mental health problems.
Alex was greeted by Stone and a few other veterans
“Linda was so warm and welcoming,” Alex said of her first day. “I was immediately comforted. I quickly started group therapy. It was my first group experience with hospital patients, and hearing other veterans share their stories and experiences was my first step forward.
Dale Pushee, Army Veteran and VA Peer Specialist, joined one of the group sessions.
“Dale changed me,” added Alex. “He’s the whole reason I’m where I am today. Hearing his story and seeing his honesty really made me feel like I wasn’t alone and I could still be something.
Peer Specialists are VA employees in mental illness and addictions recovery who help other Veterans successfully engage in mental health and addictions treatment.
“I host groups that support the program,” Pushee said. “I share aspects of my own recovery as they correlate with the group. I also offer to meet veterans while they are there and, whenever possible, continue to work with them one-on-one after they leave the program.
Domiciliary offers many recovery services
Soon, Alex was at a stage in his recovery where he could be transferred to the Bedford VA Residential Program, a 100-day residential program for homeless veterans with co-occurring mental health and/or addiction issues.
The home offers group and individual psychotherapy as well as vocational rehabilitation, reintegration services, recreational therapy and individualized recovery services to support independence and ongoing recovery. An interdisciplinary team works alongside residents to address a variety of needs related to mental health, medical complexities, career goals, housing, discharge planning, and criminal justice involvement.
It was at home that Alex learned skills to keep a job and saw an offer for peer specialist training. Alex thought back to Pushee and applied. He completed the training while living at the Crescent House Transitional Residence Program in Lowell, Massachusetts.
“There is help out there. Take control.”
After his Peer Specialist certification, Alex gained experience in the private sector before starting his employment with VA. For more than two years, Alex has used his life experiences to help other veterans and is very grateful for the collaboration of New England VA clinicians who helped him get his life back.
Alex today: “There is help out there. Mental health and addiction issues do not discriminate. Take control, make a change. Reach out, say something, don’t suffer in silence. You have served your country and now is the time for your country to serve you. VA literally saved my life. Maybe this will save yours.