A decade ago, Ken and Julia Falke began inviting wounded warriors undergoing treatment at DC-area military hospitals to their Bluemont property, offering fresh air and a bit of relaxation for families recovering from trauma.
That outreach started a journey that has evolved into a nationwide program to better treat struggling veterans during a time of epidemic suicides. Over the years, Ken Falke has assembled a team that has rewritten the book on treating post-traumatic stress disorder with a veteran-led program that focuses not on the treating those symptoms, but instead on ensuring each man or woman has the tools to live the best post-service life as possible.
Boulder Crest Foundation’s Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes) program is built on cultivating post-traumatic growth. The program was developed at the Bluemont retreat and then expanded to a second treatment center in Arizona, and the foundation’s leadership has worked to blend elements of the program into the Veteran’s Administration treatment regimen.
Now the Gary Sinise Foundation, with $40 million in support from The Home Depot founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur M. Blank, is helping to expand Warrior PATHH programs to 20 treatment centers nationwide. Sinise, the actor and director whose roles included Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump,” visited Boulder Crest before it opened a decade ago and then began working with Falke and his team to host his mentor retreat programs that introduce current wounded veterans, new to their injuries, with wounded veterans from pervious wars.
That relationship is expanding with Sinise’s effort to launch the cognitive health and mental wellness network.
“When I formed the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, it was rooted in a personal mission to provide support, raise spirits and improve the mental wellness of our nation’s heroes and their families,” Sinise said in announcing the program. “This cognitive health and mental wellness network will further expand our services to veterans and first responders experiencing post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and substance abuse to help heal the invisible wounds afflicting too many of our veterans and first responders, transforming struggle into strength, and lifelong post-traumatic growth.”
“Our team at Boulder Crest worked very hard to create Warrior PATHH, a program that is highly successful and resonates for combat veterans and first responders. With the help of Mr. Bernie Marcus, we were able to create a curriculum and study the results over an 18-month period. The results are far superior to the status quo,” Falke said. “Now, we can scale this much-needed program even further nationwide via The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network.”
Falke said his team in January marked the completion of the 100th Warrior PATHH program. With the expansion, 100 programs will be conducted during 2021 alone.
New program sites are up and running in Florida, Georgia, Maine, South Carolina and Arkansas, with Washington state to open this summer. The plans are to add two more to the network next year, for a total of 10 locations nationwide by 2022.
The causes of depression among veterans vary, including the loss of trusted connections, high unemployment, substance abuse and relationship breakups. The Warrior PATHH program rebuilds connections in groups of six to eight participants led by a guide, also a veteran who has faced similar challenges. The program has documented a 56% reduction in post-traumatic stress symptoms and a 50% sustained reduction in depression, and a 56% improvement in post-traumatic growth among participants.
The focus is on providing the participants with a higher quality of life.
“The true opposite of suicide is trying to live great lives,” Falke said.