This has been a challenging year for everyone. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic struggles have been particularly hard for veterans, says Brian Anderson, the founder and executive director of Veterans Alternative. “COVID and the shutdowns have reawakened a lot of trauma,” says Anderson, a former Green Beret. “There are a lot of warriors who are really struggling right now.”
As we honor our veterans on Veterans Day, it’s important to acknowledge the mental and emotional toll of serving in the military, especially in combat– and the help that is available. Studies show that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Many of them struggle from PTSD, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and struggle to readjust to civilian life. “Warriors face a lot of difficulties in the transition,” says Anderson. “They might feel a loss of identity, trying to gather their ground. Who am I now and what is my mission?”
But there is hope. Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) has been shown in more than a dozen studies to effectively treat trauma in veterans. ART has been used widely by the Department of Defense, VA programs and nonprofits that serve this community, such as Veterans Alternative.
Unlike in traditional talk therapies, participants in ART do not need to recount the details of troubling memories to their therapist. This is especially helpful for those who don’t like to open up about past traumas. ART enables participants to essentially rewrite endings to painful memories; while they still recall the event, the emotional pain is gone. Studies show that clients with PTSD who undergo ART experience significant or complete reduction of their symptoms in an average of four sessions.
At the Tampa-based Veterans Alternatives, participants in five-day retreats engage in lengthy ART sessions each day. They also take part in other therapeutic activities such as yoga nidra, integrative restoration (i-rest) and equine therapy and enjoy the camaraderie of barbecues and beach trips. The program is entirely free for both veterans and active duty military. Since 2016, the Tampa-based nonprofit Veterans Alternative has helped more than 600 combat veterans and their spouses deal with PTSD, anxiety, trauma and the stresses of readjusting to civilian life.
After pausing in-person events in the spring, Veterans Alternative has resumed retreats in the summer with smaller groups. Virtual services are also available and many participants take part in virtual counseling services after they return home, Anderson says. “Whenever we hear of a warrior in need of help, we get them connected and get them help,” he says.