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Wellness Center Helps Vets With PTSD

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — As we get older, and live through or alongside more and more wars over the years, we seem to develop a deeper respect for our veterans than we had when we were younger.

When I was young, I still remember my grandmother making me write letters to my uncle in Vietnam. She would enclose my little notes in the boxes she made for him, placing them next to the Swiss Miss instant cocoa packets and jars of Tang.

He came back; I was lucky to get my “Unky Bill” back. But like many vets I have met from that war, he didn’t talk about it. And I never understood why.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a terrifying event in which the person was physically harmed or felt threatened. Now there is a new healing center in New Mexico that addresses this issue in a way so successful it caught the eye of the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Aside from the clinical approaches used to help the veterans deal with PTSD, the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center in Angel Fire uses complementary alternative medicine such as yoga, guided imagery, Reiki, massage therapy, acupuncture, equine therapy, group sessions and Native American ceremonies at their retreats.

“Moving and life changing” is how some vets have described the exhausting 58 hours of structured therapy that lasts seven full days at the Angel Fire retreats. And although the Albuquerque VA is top-notch when it comes to caring for our vets, it is not their mission nor are they funded to take on the families.

Corrales residents Jim Tritten and his wife, Jasmine, attended the spring session with 16 other couples, including one vet from World War II, one from the Korean War, nine from Vietnam and about five from current conflicts.

Thinking that sharing your own stories with vets from other eras would be cathartic, I asked Jim if there was much interaction taking place.

“Yes, we all shared,” he said. “The newer ones were less open than the older guys who have been dealing with issues longer. Some of the new ones are still into denial or think that they have been ‘cured.’ ”

Since vets aren’t the only ones who are affected by PTSD, their spouses were recognized during the retreat, as well, in a very heartfelt way.

“What probably affected each individual more than anything else was at a dinner during which the vets presented a purple heart (not the military medal) to their spouses and made a speech in front of everyone,” says Jim. “I am sure that this will be on the documentary.”

Lisa Ling, host of the show “Our America” on the Oprah Winfrey Network, was filming a documentary at the retreat in April. “Invisible Wounds of War” will air Sunday on OWN at 10 p.m. Eastern/9 p.m. Central and again on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 5 p.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Central.

“Lisa and her crew were there the entire time,” says Jim. “They had total access except at one meeting of only the vets during which they wanted to speak freely and explore some very sensitive issues.”

Jim says the filmmakers got raw unadulterated footage of some pretty heavy stuff shared by the vets and their spouses, and the issues Lisa and her crew heard affected them greatly.

“There were times she was in tears – but then again we all were,” said Jim.

How proud we should be to have the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center here in New Mexico. But like any nonprofit, they depend on donations to stay afloat. Contact Karen Kelly at 575-377-6555 for more information.

Quote of the Week: “My grandfather was a soldier. When he passed, there was no caisson, no flag-draped casket, no salutes with rifles or by hand. No one passed the flag to his widow and thanked her for his service to his country … a silent witness to the passing of another forgotten soldier of a now forgotten war.” – Excerpt from “Two Old Soldiers” by Jim Tritten.

Jennifer Huard’s column runs Saturdays. She welcomes your emails at Visit her blog at