Public Service as “Therapy” for PTSD

Public Service as “Therapy” for PTSD

Public Service as “Therapy” for PTSD

military_suicide_figuresWhen a soldier is injured and sent home, he/she loses a close brotherhood and intense purpose and is dropped into a society where they are no longer part of something larger than themselves.

Yet, when wounded veterans are asked what they want to do when they recover, most of them say they want to return to their units. And if they can’t, they want to serve in some other way – teaching, coaching or working in the community. (A 2009 study of recent veterans showed 92% had a desire to continue to serve in some way.)

I would dare to say: they want to be needed.

How does service help a soldier cope with PTSD? It’s obvious to me: If you’re out doing disaster relief, you’re more likely to be thinking about something other than your own woes!

Perhaps if Major Aaron Bricewick, hero of True Surrender, had access to this option, things might have been different for him. He was torn from his support structure and forced to start over and adjust to live and career as an amputee. He tried to manage his PTSD first with medication (leading to a mild addiction) and then by a fanatical adherence to exercise.

But when his involvement was needed to bring down the ‘bad guy,’ it gave him a sense of purpose and encouraged him to start rebuilding his life. (The love of a good woman plays a part too, of course.)

There’s a hunger for this kind of contribution to others – and not just amongst veterans. In 2011 there were 582,000 applications for 82,000 slots in AmeriCorps (the federal government’s volunteer service program).

This is not rocket science. Why is this realization an “epiphany” to certain sectors (like our government)?

Why it is taking so long for government to get on board with this idea? Organizations like Team Rubicon and Team Red White & Blue (and dozens of others) are stepping into the void. Founders – often wounded vets themselves – are using their own combat and disability pay to get these programs off the ground.

One organization, The Mission Continues, uses a fellowship to organize and fund veterans to do 6-month stints of disaster work and other community service. Fellows take four classes a year and have a weekend orientation at which they get to meet one another. They do a service project together and take an oath of service before returning to their communities. They even complete personal-development reading/writing assignments each month during their transition to civilian life.

An initial study of TMC fellows showed dramatic improvement in well-being after their fellowship. Talk about a win-win situation. Isn’t there a way we can fund more of this?


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