Last Updated 8/21/2016
The core Mission of Veterans Helping Veterans Heal Themselves is exactly what the name implies: to generate/create a nationwide network of independent, self-supporting, Peer Support Groups with the purpose of giving veterans the capability and the tools needed to deal with their common issues. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, PTSD can be put into long-term remission (read substantially remediated) without any meds at all. We actually can and do make many of the symptoms “go away” (and it often doesn’t take long at all) which greatly simplifies our reintegration into “polite society”.
We’ve long known that Combat Veterans and “earth people” just aren’t on the same page often enough to get used to it. It seems that Combat is one of those things that if you haven’t been there, it’s just impossible for you, no matter how motivated, well meaning and well trained you might be, to relate to folks who have. A guy comes back from a deployment or three and he suddenly has a terrible problem trying to communicate with his wife or his civilian friends or his minister or really anyone that he left behind. But sit him down with another warrior (who he doesn’t know from Adam’s housecat) and in a couple of minutes they’re finishing each other’s sentences. Turns out, there’s another demographic that shares that (if perhaps ONLY that) issue ~ alcoholics and addicts. For eons, everyone’s been trying to figure out why they are the way they are and how in hell on earth to fix it. About 75 years ago, a couple of hopeless, helpless drunks sat down together and figured out that empathy is the answer and peer-support/12-Step groups were born.
It works for them. It will work for us.
So, we model our peer groups roughly along the lines of 12-Step groups – which is to say: NO hierarchy, NO dogma, NO “adult supervision”. We know from nearly a century of history along these lines that peer support works – the 12-step groups such as AA, NA, etc. being Exhibit-A. For that and other reasons, empathy is our weapon of choice, and since our peers are the only source of empathy available, peer support becomes pretty much a no-brainer, the only game in town. Long story short, empathy is a LOT more powerful than it gets credit for. A very competent, well trained mental health professional can provide what looks a little like empathy, but at the end of the day, the best he can come up with is sympathy. There is no substitute for brothers who have been where you’ve been, seen what you’ve seen and done what you’ve done to help you unwind.
That having been said, we shift our gaze to the elephant in the room. It seems totally obvious and intuitive that it is patently impossible to treat a guy for anything at all while he has a gun in his mouth. But once that issue is dealt with (first ~ right out the gate), peer support works quite well. Long story short, you (quite reasonably) trust your brothers more than the VA, the Armed Forces, your family, the Mental Health Industry at large, etc. As was said, you can walk into a roomful of your brothers and in just a couple of minutes, you’ll be finishing each other’s sentences. This is exactly as it should be. The bond between warriors is right there at the top of the list of attributes that enhance healing, and cannot be replicated by anything else. Matter of fact, a notable aspect/symptom of PTSD is grieving the loss of that camaraderie by folks who have left the Service. They know they’ll never find it anywhere else.
In ancient tribal societies, the warrior archetype was key to the success, and the very survival, of the tribe. A tribe could not survive the loss of its warriors, so they found ways to unwind these guys when they came back from battle. Sadly, when we slaughtered all the aboriginal cultures of the world (save, perhaps, just a few in the Amazon or Australia), we lost all that. Enough folklore survives, however to begin to replicate it. We can use what we can find of those customs as an alternative to opiates, barbiturates and the like that suppress symptoms but heal nothing You may have noticed that much of the healthcare industry appears to confuse the suppressing symptoms (even at the cost of creating more virulent symptoms) with solving the problem.