Make a Date During Heart Health Month

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/February/Make-a-Date-During-Heart-Health-Month.asp

Strive, Live, Conquer in Salt Lake City

Army Veteran Shaun Castle

“From the moment I returned from the Games, I had a newfound outlook on my life.”

This June, in Salt Lake City, more than 500 wheelchair athletes — all military Veterans, will compete in the 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games. I will be one of them, will you?

When I competed in my first National Veterans Wheelchair Games three years ago, I had no idea that it was going to lead me to the life I have today — but I am truly grateful that it did. It was taking that first step to sign up and compete in my first National Veterans Wheelchair Games in 2013 that gave me the initial spark which lit a fire under me to become what I am today — a collegiate and professional wheelchair athlete. From the moment I returned from the Games, I had a new-found outlook on my life and what I wanted to be — who I wanted to be. I was so motivated after my experience at that Games that I then spent six days a week, up to five hours a day training to be a wheelchair athlete.

There are so many people like myself who come out of the military injured, with a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, amputated limbs and are looking for something to grab a hold of, something to strive for, something to be a part of — a brotherhood that we lost when we left the military. And it’s the National Veterans Wheelchair Games where many people find that again, find that reason to live, and know that anything is possible.

“Take that first step and do as I did, sign up for the Games.”

I can say without a doubt that for me it was the National Veterans Wheelchair Games and adaptive sports that gave that back to me, gave me that want, that drive again, to get back into life and to be back as part of something.

The hardest thing to do after you get injured is wake up the next morning and realize that your life is completely changed, and ask yourself what do I do now? Well, I encourage you to take that first step and do as I did, sign up for the Games, talk to a recreational therapist at your VA hospital about it, talk to other Veterans who have participated in the Games, and then prepare yourself physically and mentally to compete in the Games, because when you get there you will find yourself surrounded by hundreds of Veterans who are just like you. And I promise you it’ll be an experience that will change your life for the better, in one way or another, as it did mine. You just have be there to see it, and experience it for yourself.

A Veteran races in his handcycle

More information on the Games.

Registration Closes April 15, 2016

Registration for the 2016 National Veterans Wheelchair Games closes April 15, 2016.

Each year, hundreds of disabled Veterans travel from around the country to compete in the Games, the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world. With them, they bring the fighting spirit and tenacity that define the Veterans of our Armed Forces.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is a sports and rehabilitation event for military service Veterans who use wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or certain neurological problems.

Competitive events at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games include air guns, archery, basketball, bowling, field events, handcycling, a motorized wheelchair rally, nine-ball, power soccer, quad rugby, slalom, softball, swimming, table tennis, track, trapshooting and weightlifting. Athletes compete in all events against others with similar athletic ability, competitive experience and age.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games will be held in Salt Lake City from June 27-July 2, 2016. The Games are proudly co-presented by the VA and Paralyzed Veterans, partners in this annual event since 1985. For more information, please visit wheelchairgames.org.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/January/Strive-Live-Conquer-in-Salt-Lake-City.asp

Well-Being for Aging Veterans

Two older men sitting on mats leading a class in exercise.

Staying active, an important 2016 resolution for older Veterans.

Look Under Your Hood

It’s that time of year. We remember how we used to look and act, and think about where we are today. We want to be healthy and continue doing the types of activities we have done in the past. Some of us make resolutions for the New Year. And, wonder what is realistic given our age and health status.

Your VA medical center can help you make small changes or even big changes that will improve your overall well-being.

Make a Pit Stop for Health

Your body may have changed a bit since basic training days, but you still have lots of opportunities to enhance your physical health. Well-being is the combination of mental health, physical health, and spiritual health — also called mind, body, and spirit. We want to assist you in addressing your overall health.

Complete a Systems Check

The Well-being section on the Geriatrics and Extended Care website (http://www.va.gov/Geriatrics/) provides comprehensive information about the eight topics that address well-being, including:

Each topic includes links to community resources to enhance your well-being.

Get Ready for a Road Trip

Staying active is one of the well-being areas that you may want to include in your 2016 resolutions. One opportunity is the Gerofit program, a supervised exercise program for older Veterans that is located in a few of our medical centers. Programs like Gerofit may provide individual and group based exercises such as Tai Chi, line dancing, balance, core coordination, and strengthening classes. Veterans in the program have improved their health, physical function and well-being. They have also shown improvements in blood pressure, diabetes management, symptom management, and overall well-being and quality of life.

Charlie Brown, a Marine and Korean War Veteran.

Charlie Brown, a Marine and Korean War Veteran.

You’re the Driver

Charlie Brown, a Marine and Korean War Veteran, has been participating in the Gerofit program for almost ten years. “I have cancer, diabetes and I’m a stroke survivor. My doctor suggested this program. At first I asked, what the heck is it? Well, I’m glad I found out because this program gave me an evaluation to find out what I can and can’t do.

“Now that I’ve been in it, I find that it controls my diabetes and helps me with balance. Gerofit also has a social component. I have a common bond with the other Veterans who participate. I found something that works for my physical and mental health.”

Is it Time to Start Your Engine?

You may not be able to tackle all of the areas of well-being at once, but even small changes can make a difference. Is it time for you to take action and make a change — for your mind, body and spirit? Go to the VA Geriatrics Well-Being site and good luck!

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/January/Well-Being-for-Aging-Veterans.asp

Iraq War Veteran Becomes VA Nurse

VA nurse Mike Twigg uses a stethoscope to examine a Veteran patient

Mike Twigg was 38 years old when he decided to join the Army. Still, isn’t 38 a bit old to be joining the Army?

Mike Twigg was 38 years old when he decided to join the Army. It was 2007, and the war in Iraq was going full tilt.

“I wouldn’t call it a mid-life crisis,” said Twigg, who up until then had been working as a medical products salesman. “It was just a very unusual way to make a career change. I decided I wanted a job in the medical field, and I thought I could get training for that in the Army.”

Sounds like a solid plan. Still, isn’t 38 a bit old to be joining the Army?

Pops

“In boot camp everybody called me ‘Pops,’” Twigg said. “But believe it or not, I wasn’t the oldest guy there. “Most of the 300 recruits in my unit were in their late teens or early 20s, but there was one guy who was 39, and a female recruit who was 42. There was a big surge going on in Iraq, and the Army was looking for anybody they could get.”

Twigg was trained as a medic and ended up working in an Army optometry clinic in Fort Drum, N.Y. But not for long.

“In 2009 I got an opportunity to deploy, so I did,” he said. “I wanted some experience in the field, in combat. I wanted to get dirty, to do some hands-on trauma work. I wanted to find out if I was cut out for that kind of thing. Plus, I wanted to deploy because I thought it was the right thing to do. We were at war.”

“In boot camp everybody called me ‘Pops.’ But believe it or not, I wasn’t the oldest guy there. ”

While deployed in Iraq Twigg served as the medic on supply convoys that brought food, ammunition and equipment to troops fighting in the field.

“Luckily, most of the injuries I dealt with weren’t all that serious,” he said. “Guys will get bruised or broken fingers doing fairly routine things. Or they’ll twist an ankle when they jump off the truck. Those trucks are built way off the ground, and if you jump off and land the wrong way, there goes your ankle.”

Then there were the not-so-routine injuries.

“If there’s a catastrophic event — let’s say an armored vehicle takes a direct mortar hit — sometimes there’s nothing you can do. You look inside what’s left of the vehicle and you see brain matter on the dashboard. You know everyone in there is dead, but their buddies are screaming at you to do something, so you need to at least go through the motions. It makes people feel better when they see you doing something. So you pretend.”

Good, Bad, and Difficult

After leaving the military Twigg used his GI Bill to obtain his bachelor’s degree in nursing at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, after which he promptly applied for a job at the Cleveland VA Medical Center. He’s been working the night shift there since April, attending to patients on the medical-surgical ward.

“Honestly, it’s the only place I wanted to work,” he said. “I want to take care of Veterans. When I was in Iraq patching soldiers together I realized that a lot of these guys were going to need a lifetime of care. I want to be there for them, and VA is the best place for me to do that.”

Twigg said there’s another reason he and VA seem to be the right fit.

“Sometimes Veterans, as patients, can be difficult,” he explained. “They are unique. They’ve had a hard life. They’ve been through things that most people haven’t. So when they come to the Cleveland VA it helps if they have someone they can identify with. They can relate to me because I know these guys, I know what they’ve been through. They’ll talk to me because I’m a Veteran, like them, and because I make it a point to be a very good listener.”

And when Twigg says ‘good listener,’ he means it. “I practice active listening,” he explained. “I listen, then I restate their concern or something else they’ve said. This shows I’m paying attention, and it builds rapport in case I have to do something unpopular later on like give them a shot or a bad-tasting medicine.”

The former Army medic enjoys what he does but admits that his job — like any job — has its ups and downs.

“The patients who are the most challenging are the ones who don’t want to get better,” Twigg said. “They can be combative. Sometimes they’ll throw things at you. We’ve had patients rip IVs right out of their arms. These guys aren’t just medically unstable; they’re psychologically unstable. They’ve done three or four deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan. They have PTSD, or they’re alcoholics or heroin users who are going through withdrawal. You want to help them get better; you want to make a difference. So when they don’t want to get better it can be frustrating. You look at these guys and you know most of them aren’t even going to make it to 50.”

Buying Some Time

As frustrating as it may be, Twigg never gives up on any of his patients, no matter how hopeless they might seem.

“You have to realize you can’t save them all,” he admitted. “But you do your job. And you hope you can buy them a little time, even if it’s only a month or two. Because during that month they might think about things; they might decide to turn it around. They might flip that switch. So you always try to buy them some time.”

The Iraq Veteran sees more than his fair share of heartbreaking cases. But he also has the privilege of caring for patients who are downright inspirational.

“I was talking to this one Veteran in his early 80s,” he said. “He’d been taken prisoner during the Korean War. He was a patient here at Cleveland, and he wasn’t doing so well. We tried several different treatments, and nothing was working. One day he was having a really bad time and I told him I was sorry he was having a bad day. He looked at me and said, ‘I was a prisoner of war in Korea for three years. I ate sawdust to survive. So I don’t have bad days.’”

Twigg said that eventually the former prisoner of war grew strong enough to be discharged from the hospital.

“It feels good when you can take somebody who comes in needing round-the-clock medical care and gradually restore them to the point where they’re well enough to go home,” he said. “Seeing that happen is the best part of my job.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/January/Iraq-War-Veteran-Becomes-VA-Nurse.asp

Free, Confidential Courses to Launch Your New Year

Free, Confidential Courses to Launch Your New Year

Top Ten VA Services List for Veterans in 2016

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/December/Top-Ten-VA-Services-List-for-Veterans-in-2016.asp

98-Year-Old Veteran Planning Next Parasailing Trip

Veteran Marion Ritchie and her Navy photo from World War II.

World War II Navy Veteran, 98, looks back on a century of Christmas celebrations and her recent adventures parasailing and motorcycle riding. Next up, computer classes.


Becki Zschiedrich, AFRH, Gulfport VA Public Affairs

“Riding on the back on a motorcycle with my son is one of my fondest memories of Christmas day.”

Actually, a rather tame activity for Navy Veteran Marion Ritchie who went parasailing on her 98th birthday this past summer.

Ritchie will be enjoying Christmas dinner this week at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Biloxi, Mississippi. She couldn’t get all the transportation issues worked out for her planned trip to California to see some of her family, so she’ll get out there in the spring.

“I always had a good time at Christmas when all the kids were home.”

Reflecting on the 98 Christmases she has seen, Ritchie said, “I always had a good time at Christmas when all the kids were home and other relatives would come over. It was family time where relatives would bring their sleeping bags and put them out in the living room.”

Parasailing on her 98th birthday was very exciting, she said. She loved being up there seeing the coastline from that perspective and she may do it again in two years when she turns 100.

Ritchie has been enrolled in VA health care for the past 25 years and has received care at four VA health care systems through the years. She said she has had nothing but excellent care but then again, she is very healthy.

Enlisted in Navy in World War II

She decided to enlist in the Navy at the start of World War II because as a PBX switchboard operator, her job was boring. She went down to the recruiter’s office during her lunch break and enlisted. She wanted to do her part in the war effort but mostly she wanted to see the world. So, of course, after boot camp she was given orders to a base 20 miles from her home.

It wasn’t the exciting career she imagined but she did feel good about serving. As the end of the war drew near, she was transferred to Washington to assist with the paperwork involved with ending a war.

She has three children, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. She enjoys quilting and is planning on taking computer classes at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, where she has lived for the past 17 years.

“Living at AFRH has helped me live a long and healthy life,” Ritchie says. “They take good care of me. Had I not served in the Navy, I wouldn’t have been eligible to live here.

“For the ladies out there that might be considering a career in the military, I say go for it,” Ms. Ritchie said. “There are wonderful opportunities out there and the benefits you get for serving can last a lifetime.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/December/98-Year-Old-Veteran-Planning-Next-Parasailing-Trip.asp

VA ‘Bridgers’ Helping Sober Vets Stay That Way

Two men play chess in a restaurant

Peer Support Specialist and Bridger Redger Hennah (right) and Marine Corps Veteran Thaddeus Burnett enjoy a quiet game of chess at Santoro’s Pizza in Lowell, Mass.

Buzz Aldrin, former fighter pilot and the second astronaut to walk on the moon, had this to say about trying to stay sober: “It’s been one of the greatest challenges that ever came along in my life. It was one of the more difficult things to do.”

Tony Russo understands. Which is why he helped come up with a novel program at the Bedford VA for helping Veterans struggling with alcoholism, drug abuse and mental health issues.

“We want these Veterans to successfully integrate back into the community after receiving treatment here at Bedford, and we just weren’t addressing it,” explained the certified peer specialist. “Once they left us they were going back out there and isolating instead of integrating. Next thing you know they’re drinking again and they’re back here with us, back in treatment.”

Thus was born the concept of VA ‘bridgers,’ people who actually accompany you back out into the community once you leave rehab at the VA. Guardian Angels, you might call them.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

“We wanted to make sure our Veterans found healthy things to do, healthy people to hang around with,” Russo said. “At one time your life centered around the bar you hung out at and the people you drank with. We want you to hang out someplace else, with different people, and that’s what our bridgers help you do.”

Russo, a retired submariner, said he is currently one of three bridgers at the Bedford VA in Massachusetts.

“Your bridger’s job is to help you get immersed in the life of your community,” he explained. “Your bridger might recommend a church to go to on Sunday morning, or where to go to do some volunteer work, or where to look for a job. Or he’ll say, ‘Hey, you want to hit a meeting somewhere?’

“We wanted to make sure our Veterans found healthy things to do, healthy people to hang around with.”

“All of our bridgers are Veterans,” he added. “They’re all certified peer specialists, and they’re also in recovery themselves.”

Russo, 50, said a big part of recovery involves cutting out the bad influences in your life and replacing them with good ones. “It’s a gradual process,” he said. “You start hanging out more at the gym instead of the bar, for example. You’re meeting new people. You’re creating a new network.”

Coffee, Anyone?

“It’s a unique program,” said Dr. Charles Drebing, the mental health services line manager at the Bedford VA. “Our peer bridgers give you a warm hand-off to the community, so to speak. If you don’t know how to integrate, if you don’t know how to find healthy things to do, they’ll help you with that.”

Drebing said it was Tony Russo who introduced one of the program’s most important elements: the coffee social hour, or ‘coffee’ for short.

“Tony established the first coffee,” Drebing explained. “It’s an informal meeting of Vets at your local Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks or wherever. You just sit around with a bunch of other Veterans, drinking coffee and talking. It happens every week at the same time. It’s an entryway for getting connected to the life of your community. For example, at one coffee we had a group of Veterans who decided to get together and help rebuild houses for disabled people. They just went over to a local non-profit and asked if they could help them rebuild houses. It was that simple.”

Army Veteran Chuck Delaney, another bridger at Bedford, said some Veterans respond quickly to the program while others take a little longer. “This one Veteran, Jesse, started donating his time at the Somerville homeless coalition,” Delaney explained. “He was helping them write grants. He used to be a business attorney. Now he’s writing grants full-time for a theater group.”

Then there was Jack, a Veteran who had spent most of his life working construction.

“Jack was struggling a bit after completing rehab,” Delaney said. “He had a couple relapses while he was living in transitional housing. But we finally got him into this training program so he could become a phlebotomist — that’s a person who draws your blood. So now he’s employed and living in his own place, just like Jesse. I’m very proud of both of them.”

The Guy

“Reggie’s my bridger; he’s the guy,” said Mike, a 24-year-old Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “He took me bowling. He took me to a Veterans breakfast, which was pretty cool. He drove me to the University of Massachusetts so I could meet with an advisor and register for my two classes. He wrote a letter of recommendation that helped get me this job I have at the VA. I started here two weeks ago. Reggie’s also helping me work on my HUD-VASH application so I can have a place of my own. Right now I’m living in VA transitional housing.”

Mike said his bridger, Reggie, also brought him to his first coffee and introduced him to everyone there.

“I go there every week now,” Mike said enthusiastically. “That’s really been the most helpful thing for me, those coffee socials. You sit there with other Veterans and go over your pyramid.”

Wait … Your pyramid?

“Your pyramid is all the different facets of your life,” Mike explained. “Housing, recreation, finances, health, transportation, your spiritual life. If any one of them breaks down, the whole pyramid starts to crumble. So you’re always working on your pyramid. The coffees are a good place for that.”

Locking the Door

“The coffees are excellent because a lot of our Veterans just don’t socialize well,” said Redger (Reggie) Hennah, Mike’s bridger. “It’s not something they’re very good at. What they tend to be good at is going home, locking the door, and watching 13 hours of television by themselves. We don’t want them doing that.”

Hennah, a 53-year-old Army Veteran, said his favorite coffee is the one held at Santoro’s Pizza in Lowell, Mass. “The owner’s a nice guy,” he observed. “He’ll give us free pizza every now and then.”

The seasoned bridger said the weekly coffee (along with the occasional slice of free pizza) is indispensable for helping Veterans like Mike reintegrate into their community following rehab. “Like I said, a lot of these guys are not good at meeting new people, they’re not good at forming or maintaining intimate relationships. But they can strongly relate to other Veterans. It’s like a separate subculture. They feel comfortable around one another.”

Hennah said Mike has come a long way in his recovery, but still has a long journey ahead of him.

“When I first met Mike he looked like he didn’t have much hope,” Hennah said. “He’s very young. He needed someone to confide in. But he felt comfortable with me after I told him my own story of recovery. So when I told him I understood his pain, he was able to accept it. He knew I’d experienced the same things he had.”

He added: “Mike has a lot of strengths. He’s intuitive. He’s very goal-oriented. But like a lot of Veterans in recovery, he wants to fix everything all at once. So I keep telling him to slow down, to organize his thoughts, to tackle one thing at a time. Because you don’t find peace after everything falls into place. First you find peace, then everything falls into place.”

Editor’s note: The names of some former rehab patients mentioned in this article have been changed, at their request, to protect their privacy.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/December/VA-Bridgers-Helping-Sober-Vets-Stay-That-Way.asp

VA ‘Bridgers’ Helping Sober Vets Stay That Way

Two men play chess in a restaurant

Peer Support Specialist and Bridger Redger Hennah (right) and Marine Corps Veteran Thaddeus Burnett enjoy a quiet game of chess at Santoro’s Pizza in Lowell, Mass.

Buzz Aldrin, former fighter pilot and the second astronaut to walk on the moon, had this to say about trying to stay sober: “It’s been one of the greatest challenges that ever came along in my life. It was one of the more difficult things to do.”

Tony Russo understands. Which is why he helped come up with a novel program at the Bedford VA for helping Veterans struggling with alcoholism, drug abuse and mental health issues.

“We want these Veterans to successfully integrate back into the community after receiving treatment here at Bedford, and we just weren’t addressing it,” explained the certified peer specialist. “Once they left us they were going back out there and isolating instead of integrating. Next thing you know they’re drinking again and they’re back here with us, back in treatment.”

Thus was born the concept of VA ‘bridgers,’ people who actually accompany you back out into the community once you leave rehab at the VA. Guardian Angels, you might call them.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

“We wanted to make sure our Veterans found healthy things to do, healthy people to hang around with,” Russo said. “At one time your life centered around the bar you hung out at and the people you drank with. We want you to hang out someplace else, with different people, and that’s what our bridgers help you do.”

Russo, a retired submariner, said he is currently one of three bridgers at the Bedford VA in Massachusetts.

“Your bridger’s job is to help you get immersed in the life of your community,” he explained. “Your bridger might recommend a church to go to on Sunday morning, or where to go to do some volunteer work, or where to look for a job. Or he’ll say, ‘Hey, you want to hit a meeting somewhere?’

“We wanted to make sure our Veterans found healthy things to do, healthy people to hang around with.”

“All of our bridgers are Veterans,” he added. “They’re all certified peer specialists, and they’re also in recovery themselves.”

Russo, 50, said a big part of recovery involves cutting out the bad influences in your life and replacing them with good ones. “It’s a gradual process,” he said. “You start hanging out more at the gym instead of the bar, for example. You’re meeting new people. You’re creating a new network.”

Coffee, Anyone?

“It’s a unique program,” said Dr. Charles Drebing, the mental health services line manager at the Bedford VA. “Our peer bridgers give you a warm hand-off to the community, so to speak. If you don’t know how to integrate, if you don’t know how to find healthy things to do, they’ll help you with that.”

Drebing said it was Tony Russo who introduced one of the program’s most important elements: the coffee social hour, or ‘coffee’ for short.

“Tony established the first coffee,” Drebing explained. “It’s an informal meeting of Vets at your local Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks or wherever. You just sit around with a bunch of other Veterans, drinking coffee and talking. It happens every week at the same time. It’s an entryway for getting connected to the life of your community. For example, at one coffee we had a group of Veterans who decided to get together and help rebuild houses for disabled people. They just went over to a local non-profit and asked if they could help them rebuild houses. It was that simple.”

Army Veteran Chuck Delaney, another bridger at Bedford, said some Veterans respond quickly to the program while others take a little longer. “This one Veteran, Jesse, started donating his time at the Somerville homeless coalition,” Delaney explained. “He was helping them write grants. He used to be a business attorney. Now he’s writing grants full-time for a theater group.”

Then there was Jack, a Veteran who had spent most of his life working construction.

“Jack was struggling a bit after completing rehab,” Delaney said. “He had a couple relapses while he was living in transitional housing. But we finally got him into this training program so he could become a phlebotomist — that’s a person who draws your blood. So now he’s employed and living in his own place, just like Jesse. I’m very proud of both of them.”

The Guy

“Reggie’s my bridger; he’s the guy,” said Mike, a 24-year-old Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “He took me bowling. He took me to a Veterans breakfast, which was pretty cool. He drove me to the University of Massachusetts so I could meet with an advisor and register for my two classes. He wrote a letter of recommendation that helped get me this job I have at the VA. I started here two weeks ago. Reggie’s also helping me work on my HUD-VASH application so I can have a place of my own. Right now I’m living in VA transitional housing.”

Mike said his bridger, Reggie, also brought him to his first coffee and introduced him to everyone there.

“I go there every week now,” Mike said enthusiastically. “That’s really been the most helpful thing for me, those coffee socials. You sit there with other Veterans and go over your pyramid.”

Wait … Your pyramid?

“Your pyramid is all the different facets of your life,” Mike explained. “Housing, recreation, finances, health, transportation, your spiritual life. If any one of them breaks down, the whole pyramid starts to crumble. So you’re always working on your pyramid. The coffees are a good place for that.”

Locking the Door

“The coffees are excellent because a lot of our Veterans just don’t socialize well,” said Redger (Reggie) Hennah, Mike’s bridger. “It’s not something they’re very good at. What they tend to be good at is going home, locking the door, and watching 13 hours of television by themselves. We don’t want them doing that.”

Hennah, a 53-year-old Army Veteran, said his favorite coffee is the one held at Santoro’s Pizza in Lowell, Mass. “The owner’s a nice guy,” he observed. “He’ll give us free pizza every now and then.”

The seasoned bridger said the weekly coffee (along with the occasional slice of free pizza) is indispensable for helping Veterans like Mike reintegrate into their community following rehab. “Like I said, a lot of these guys are not good at meeting new people, they’re not good at forming or maintaining intimate relationships. But they can strongly relate to other Veterans. It’s like a separate subculture. They feel comfortable around one another.”

Hennah said Mike has come a long way in his recovery, but still has a long journey ahead of him.

“When I first met Mike he looked like he didn’t have much hope,” Hennah said. “He’s very young. He needed someone to confide in. But he felt comfortable with me after I told him my own story of recovery. So when I told him I understood his pain, he was able to accept it. He knew I’d experienced the same things he had.”

He added: “Mike has a lot of strengths. He’s intuitive. He’s very goal-oriented. But like a lot of Veterans in recovery, he wants to fix everything all at once. So I keep telling him to slow down, to organize his thoughts, to tackle one thing at a time. Because you don’t find peace after everything falls into place. First you find peace, then everything falls into place.”

Editor’s note: The names of some former rehab patients mentioned in this article have been changed, at their request, to protect their privacy.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/December/VA-Bridgers-Helping-Sober-Vets-Stay-That-Way.asp


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