A Helping Hand for Military Veterans

One of the results of traumatic experience for soldiers is addiction. Why are we asking American young men and women to fight for our country only to let them suffer after they have made their sacrifices?
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You've seen them on street corners and freeway entrances and exits, the unkempt, sunburned men and women who ask for your help and pocket change while holding a sign that says, "Veteran." Yet those who suffer most do so silently in the homes of their spouses or parents -- men and women who come back "different," but who are too brave or love their families too much to share the horrors they have faced while deployed. Increasingly, these men and women are turning to substance abuse to still their pain.

Why are we asking American young men and women to fight for our country only to let them suffer after they have made their sacrifices? This is not how America should work. We need to re-think the standard of practice of treating them and focus on giving them a good and healthy future. We cannot keep putting a band-aid on a broken soul or spirit. We need treatment facilities that are programmed to target these types of issues.

One of the results of traumatic experience for soldiers is addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports, "...prescription drug abuse doubled among U.S. military personnel from 2002 to 2005 and almost tripled between 2005 and 2008." Alcohol and prescription medication abuse, all part of self-medicating, are one of the "go to's" for those who have suffered traumatic experience.

Unfortunately for our veterans, few who need treatment for alcohol or substance abuse are referred to the help they require. Again, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "A study of Army soldiers screened 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq showed that 27 percent met criteria for alcohol abuse and were at increased risk for related harmful behaviors (e.g., drinking and driving, using illicit drugs). And although soldiers frequently report alcohol concerns, too few are referred to alcohol treatment."

The problems of substance abuse and addiction are only part of a complex array of issues suffered by combat veterans, and they are usually not the core or root issues that a veteran must deal with. We don't treat substance abuse directly, but look for the root cause of a person's pain. Although this may sound strange to those outside the mental health field, the primary support our veterans need to prevent substance abuse is assistance overcoming the symptoms and impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD and combat-related stress are ranked among the primary causes for substance abuse among veterans and active duty personnel. Their issues must be addressed concurrently with other symptoms of trauma, such as substance abuse. When trauma is dealt with and other related disorders of substance abuse and mental health are addressed concurrently, a return to mental and physical health quickly follows.

How can the owner of a high-end treatment center make such claims? Because, we see it day in and day out among our patients. My team and I have nearly a decade of experience working with patients who have PTSD -- from gang-rapes, on-going physical abuse, assaults and yes, especially war. It was war veterans who brought the plight of those with PTSD to national attention. Many of the successes and failures the VA has had treating PTSD have been used to hone and perfect the treatment we use at my treatment center. Ultimately, the cause of the PTSD is less important than helping the individual work through the experience so that the flashbacks, the insomnia, the terror, and the suffering come to an end. When we do that, the need to abuse substances falls away.

I cannot keep watching as our veterans fail to get the help they earned and desperately require. While my flagship addiction treatment center will remain open, I am shifting my attention toward creating an affordable treatment center that will open its doors before the end of the year, providing services to those in need, particularly veterans who suffer from an array of issues including PTSD and substance abuse. We will offer the substance abuse treatment protocol that has already proven itself successful in our facility and incorporate it for the treatment of PTSD along with other co-occurring disorders. As a whole, veterans (because of the discipline instilled while in service) tend to be highly motivated to recover, when they work with individuals who understand their experience and the process.

I have worked to develop a team of specialists who are well-versed in working with veterans and a treatment protocol specific to their needs. I brought on Constance Scharff, Ph.D., my coauthor of the Amazon.com bestselling book Ending Addiction for Good. Dr. Scharff has worked with veterans for years, specializing in creating a helpful combination of therapeutic tools that allows veterans to address their complex needs. We will soon bring to our team a veteran consultant with therapeutic experience, who can further train treatment center staff on the particularities of a veteran's experiences and needs. Our intention is to lead the addiction treatment industry in serving veterans that will be affordable and will begin the healing process for those veterans and their loved ones.

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