Boulder Crest Leaders Push for New Approach at VA

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner on Friday got a briefing on the ground-breaking treatment offered to military veterans and first responders at the Boulder Crest Retreat in Bluemont. 

Sitting around a large conference table in the main lodge of the 37-acre ridgetop complex, founder Ken Falke and members of his team made the case for more treatment programs to embrace their peer-to-peer counseling services that have been getting positive results for the past seven years.

Although federal leaders have greatly boosted support services offered through the Veterans Administration in recent years, with funding growing from $2.4 billion to $10 billion, the investment hasn’t successfully curbed the alarming suicide rate among veterans.

The Boulder Crest team told Warner that was unlikely to change unless the VA takes a different approach.

Instead of treating the symptoms of the physical and emotional injuries suffered by combat veterans, the center takes a more holistic approach. “We teach people how to live better lives,” Falke said.

Executive Director Dusty Baxley stressed that the courses are developed and taught by combat veterans to help combat veterans relearn how to respond to things back at home.

“The main thing here is hope,” he said, about moving individuals beyond traumatic experiences. “It’s not what’s wrong; it is just what has happened.”

Nate McCafferty was a recently retired Marine master sergeant when he entered Boulder Crest’s Family PATHH, an 18-month family program based on the science of posttraumatic growth.

“When I left the Marines, I left with utter helplessness,” McCafferty told Warner. He found little help in other programs and eventually considered suicide. “When I was going to kill myself, I thought I was out of options.”

At Boulder Crest, McCafferty found hope. Today, he is a PATHH guide, helping others find their hope. “I’m teaching them what I’m doing for myself, what I’m doing for my family,” he said.

The Boulder Crest campus serves 24 people at a time in the residential portion of its treatments. The center, which Falke described as the “Mayo Clinic of PTSD treatment,” serves about 750 patients per year.

The Boulder Crest team said that solving the VA’s staffing shortages and access concerns aren’t likely to lead to clinically different results in treating veterans. Instead, they told Warner that the VA should embrace new and novel treatments like the structured guidance, peer-to-peer programs that have demonstrated high rates of success in Bluemont, rather than approaches aimed chiefly at mitigating symptoms.

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