On Saturday morning, a busload of volunteers emptied out at the Boulder Crest Retreat in Bluemont and soon they were at work painting a new run-in shed in a horse paddock.
Weeks earlier, another group of volunteers from NewDay USA were in the field building the structure. It is just the latest—and not the last—of several contributions the Maryland-based Veteran Administration loan company has made at the center, which has provided wellness services to thousands of military veterans and their families since it opened in 2014.
Boulder Crest Executive Director Dusty Baxley said the center’s mission to help heal combat veterans couldn’t run without the support of volunteers. When they aren’t building things, volunteers can be found providing support in countless areas, even serving up the daily meals to those staying at the retreat.
“We can’t do it without the community and we’re very grateful,” Baxley said as the crew worked with rollers and brushes nearby.
These are exciting times at the center. It’s landmark PATHH program is gaining national recognition as one of the most effective treatments of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Also, Boulder Crest’s mission to “heal heroes one family at a time” took another big step forward in May when a second retreat opened in Arizona. The 130-acre ranch is geared to the treatment of veterans west of the Mississippi. The property was the homestead of Thomas Gardner, an entrepreneur and Indian fighter who battled in Geronimo and Cochise.
The Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes program was implemented on the 37-acre Bluemont campus and recognized as the nation’s first non-clinical program designed to cultivate “posttraumatic growth” among those struggling with PTSD or combat stress.
Baxley said that PTSD diagnosis are typically followed by a ream of prescriptions. “You’re not sleeping? Let me give you some Ambien. What’s your pain like? Let me give you an opioid. How’s your mood? Are you depressed? Let me give you some of this,” he said. “So you walk away with six or seven medications.”
The patient ends up drugged up, unable to work and still unable to cope with many aspects of civilian and family life, he said.
The PATHH program builds in the work conducted by Rich Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, UNC-Charlotte professors who conducted a 30-year study of families who lost children to cancer. “You can’t imagine anything worse,” Baxley said. But these families often came out stronger than before, a condition the study termed “posttraumatic growth.”
Through their time at Boulder Crest, the combat veterans learn that they have been trained to shut down their emotions, to react quickly and forcefully, and to thrive in the tribal environment of military life. Also, Baxley noted that many of those signing up for today’s all-volunteer military were victims of childhood trauma, something the PATHH program also seeks to address. Veterans are taught to understand what happened to them, not what’s wrong with them, he said.
Recent assessments of Boulder Crest’s veteran-led program found that it was two or three times more effective than any other PTSD protocols, Baxley said, with experts saying, “we accomplished more in two days than the medical model could in 12 to 14 months.”
Among those with a paintbrush in hand on Saturday morning was Gary Morrison, the executive director of the NewDay USA Foundation. He said groups from the 700-member company work on volunteer for veterans’ support projects on most weekends. “I’m always surprised how easy it is to get volunteers to come out here,” he said of the firm’s Boulder Crest work.
A group will be back on the site later this year to build another run-in shed in another paddock.