U.S. veteran Tom Spooner had 12 different military deployments in a period of 40 months — one to Afghanistan and 11 to Iraq. After 21 years in the military he had retired because of injuries, but transitioning into civilian life wasn’t easy.
“I had a lot of struggles when I left the military,” he tells Newsmax Health. “I had mild traumatic brain injury, and PTSD, and I had been blown up a few times.”
His return to civilian life was made possible, in part, by a great peer network, intensive cognitive, vestibular and physical therapy. But there were struggles that he hadn’t anticipated, and at one point he found himself close to being one of the 22 veteran suicides that happen every day in this country.
“The only way I could heal and get better was to continue to serve,” he says. “I kept talking to other veterans and formed Mission 22.”
This organization is a national movement that focuses on the suffering of veterans who have combat trauma. Mission 22, however, doesn’t focus on chemical dependency, and so Warriors Heart was also created — a 543-acre ranch in Bandera, Texas, that helps veterans who are struggling with some kind of chemical dependency.
“The majority of suicides were related to alcohol and drugs, and I knew we needed a solution,” Spooner says. “We kept the population [at Warriors Heart] very tight, just veterans and first responders, those who as a profession face life and death every day.
“When we’re in trouble, these are the people we call.”
Mission 22, a national network, exists to help veterans who are suffering with combat trauma, but not chemical dependency. Warriors Heart, however, is specific to chemical dependency and that’s the big difference.
Spooner founded the organization — with Josh and Lisa Lannon, a former law enforcement officer — which opened its doors about five months ago. Along with the 28-day peer-to-peer residential treatment program, there will soon be an option for outpatient day treatment services.
“If someone is self-medicating it doesn’t matter how much PTSD or spiritual help they get,” Spooner notes. Warriors Heart is a 40-bed facility on a former executive retreat. “It’s in the hill country and amenities are top notch, like a resort. It creates an environment that is the opposite of going into a treatment facility.”
Warriors Heart is available to any veterans and/or first responders who are covered by insurance, scholarships, and private funds. They only opened in October, but already have joint accreditation, and soon tri-care coverage that will include government insurance.
“Because it’s a private facility, and governed by HIPPA law, there is privacy and the ability to do the type of healing that needs to be done,” Spooner explains.
“We are careful and meaningful in not talking bad about the Veterans Administration. Their backlog is staggering. And, they may not have a high recovery rate because they are not healing everything. Chemical and alcohol addiction takes PTSD and sends it off the rails. Being in a peer-to-peer network, with someone who has been through the same struggles, is very important.”
Another feature of the new Warriors Home facility is a large semi-permanent memorial called War at Home.
“It features silhouettes of service members who have lost their lives, then taken their lives,” he says. “We hope it helps to prevent it from happening more.”
New statistics show that veteran suicides have been reduced to 20 a day. The suicide rate for law enforcement officers is one every 17 hours.
Spooner entered the military in 1990 at 20 years of age. He was a private during the Gulf War, was in the 82nd Airborne from 1990-1995, in the Special Forces from 1995 to 2001, and Delta Force from 2001 to 2011.
“I had already been in a 12-step program, so I didn’t have to deal with that piece of the puzzle,” Spooner notes. “But in 2010 I almost took my own life. I survived due to the relentless support of people who loved me. But a lot of people don’t have that kind of family and support.”
Warriors Heart, and Mission 22, both serve to give veterans the support that they need after active service.
“It may be a combat veteran sitting down with a paramedic, but that shared struggle is very important,” Spooner says.
“There is no one way to fix PTSD. If someone had diabetes, they’d ask what type. You can’t treat it all the same. The different in PTSD in veterans, as opposed to someone who is mugged, is that one is a volunteer and the other is a victim. Healing for volunteers and for victims is very different.”
For more information, visit the Warriors Home Website or Mission 22 online.
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