Retreats help veterans to get off of medications and learn to cope in civilian life
Online PR News – 27-April-2016 – Upper Marlboro / Maryland – Melwood, one of the largest employers of those with disabilities in the eastern U.S., has become known for operating a successful veterans retreat program for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. Melwood will host its next retreat for veterans from around the U.S. on May 1-7, 2016. “As a large employer of those with differing abilities, we noticed that some of our veteran employees, including women veterans, and community members were struggling,” explained Cari DeSantis, CEO of Melwood. “When we did a thorough assessment of our veteran employment program and our employed veterans, we learned that many are still dealing with post-traumatic stress. Recognizing too that it’s a barrier for employment for many veterans, we decided that we wanted to take on the challenge and help veterans locally and nationally. So we launched a veteran retreat program called Operation: Tohidu™.” Tohidu, now more than two years old, is offered free to veterans and active duty members.
To date, Operation: Tohidu has helped hundreds of veterans and their families and has received top reviews. One veteran, who had been through 14 help programs, remarked that Tohidu is the only program that has had a positive impact and has helped him get his life back. Another veteran reported back that he was able to get off of his meds and reunite with his wife and children and obtain employment, following attendance at Operation: Tohidu.
Melwood also brought on Mary Vieten, Ph.D., ABPP, CDR/MSC/USN, to assist with the program. Vieten is a veteran and recognized expert on post-traumatic stress and has worked as a consultant to a range of military organizations and individuals. She also served more than 17 years in the military including two deployments.
“One of the main problems we’ve uncovered in the retreats, and in my private practice, is the fact that many of our veterans are struggling with being over-medicated. Many are seen by a Veterans Affairs psychiatrist who immediately writes prescriptions. Then they aren’t typically seen by the same doctor when they return. Some are on multiple prescriptions without a fully informed consent and some of these prescriptions have dangerous potential interactions and side effects,” said Vieten. One recent participant in Tohidu spoke of having “flat lined” from taking multiple prescriptions that then interacted. “Often the medications are unnecessary and are adding to daily complications and challenges,” stated Vieten.
Vieten went on to explain how the veterans receive the prescriptions, take the medications and, then when they don’t feel better, many become severely depressed. Many also begin to self-medicate which only serves to further compound the problem. She believes that some of the many suicides in the veteran community are due to medications with black box warnings that they cause patients have suicidal ideations and behaviors. “Many of these medications will just put you in a fog,” she adds.
The Tohidu retreat, named with a Cherokee word for “peace, mind, body and spirit,” approaches post traumatic stress as a normal reaction to war and uses veteran facilitators to assist in helping their brethren. The result has been extremely positive and dramatic. The retreat has also been successful in providing tools for the veterans to work with their physicians in getting off of the medications, as the meds they’ve been on have slowed their progress or made them worse, hindered employment, and complicated family life.
The retreat works using a variety of techniques including experiential training, one-on-one counseling, peer mentoring, and a lot of group discussion. Melwood has learned that the group work is often the most beneficial as so many veterans feel that they’re the only person going through this and, once they learn that their reactions are normal and others share the same experiences, it opens the path to recovery. The veterans also learn that the reactions they’re experiencing—sleeplessness, or vigilance - are normal reactions. “For example, military training teaches the importance of staying alert and vigilant so light sleeping or staying awake are important for survival,” explained DeSantis. “Those skills don’t translate well into civilian life. When you can’t sleep as a civilian, many practitioners will turn to medication as the first response.” DeSantis went on to explain how the sleeplessness, on-edge behavior and other post traumatic stress symptoms are often categorized as mental illness when, in fact, the behaviors are a normal reaction to the training and traumas encountered. Once the veterans realize that they aren’t “mentally ill” or “broken,” they can begin a path of recovery where they learn day-to-day coping skills.
The program also focuses on confidence building and includes outdoor group activities such as equine therapy, experiential learning (ropes courses), neurofeedback, skills training, group collaboration and peer mentoring.
When asked about the success of the program, Vieten explained, “When I hear that a veteran has been able to get off his or her meds and is moving ahead with return to duty, employment or family visitation, or has been able to pull his or her family back together, I know that we’ve been successful.” There are many such success stories from Tohidu attendees.
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About Melwood and Operation: Tohidu™
Melwood is one of the largest employers of those with “differing abilities” in the Mid-Atlantic and provides employees for corporate and more than 43 government contracts. The organization founded “Operation: Tohidu™” a national retreat and program for veterans that are suffering from the visible and invisible wounds of war. Tohidu helps veterans learn how to cope without the use of medications; helps them learn skills to find employment and reintegration into civilian life. The program has received extremely positive reviews and has a track record of positive results.For more information, visit www.melwood.org/operationtohidu.