Watch | Warrior PATHH is helping military veterans with post combat conditions transform their struggle into profound strength and growth. The Warrior PATHH documentary is brought to you in part by NewDay USA.
More than 2.7 million American men and women have deployed to war zones since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, making this the longest stretch of military conflict in U.S. history.
This era of war is responsible for injuries to members of our armed forces that are both visible and invisible. Those being traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that often leave a person disabled, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is sometimes more difficult to detect. These acronyms are now part of the American lexicon.
The transition to civilian life can be daunting for some veterans. Recent statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs show that an average of 20 veterans commit suicide every day.
Compounding this troubling statistic is that traditional treatments for PTSD, a combination of medication and counseling, are not effective for all veterans. Fear of being stigmatized is also an issue with more than 50 percent of those in need of help declining to seek it. Of those who do, fewer than 20 percent complete their treatment program. Ultimately, only 2 percent of those diagnosed will successfully complete their rehabilitation.
In August 2015, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a comprehensive review of all clinical studies for PTSD and found that none were getting the job done. They called for a “new and innovative approach.”
A New and Innovative Approach: PTG not PTSD
In 2012, the first signs of that new approach began to emerge in Bluemont, Virginia, a rural town 50 miles west of Washington D.C., located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was there that a retired Navy bomb disposal technician, Ken Falke, and his wife Julia began devising plans for the nation’s first-ever privately funded wellness center dedicated exclusively to combat veterans and their families.
“We opened in September 2013 and started hosting leading organizations focused on PTSD, and it quickly became clear that more needed to be done," Falke told Circa. "Far too many programs were catch-and-release in nature, and didn’t enable veterans and their family members to live the great lives they deserved at home.”
Harnessing the training he received during his Navy career and a successful stint as an entrepreneur, Falke traveled the country and met with experts from the military psychology, trauma, PTSD, and treatment fields. What he learned left him stunned. “They told me that nothing was working for PTSD, and that they used the existing protocols because they were reimbursable, and quite frankly, was all they had,” he said.
But it's what the experts didn't say that troubled Falke even more. “The implication was that war breaks people. That the best that was possible for combat veterans was to live lives as diminished – and often medicated – versions of themselves.”
Being a combat veteran himself, Falke refused to accept the status quo. A meeting with a UNC Charlotte-based psychologist would prove to be the breakthrough he was looking for.
“I met Dr. Richard Tedeschi through a friend, and we began talking about the research he has been doing since the 1980s," Falke told Circa. "Rich and his colleague Lawrence Calhoun had coined the term Posttraumatic Growth in 1995, and had studied and documented how people grow after trauma. Those people often create lives that are more authentic, fulfilling, and purposeful in the aftermath of tragic events.”
Falke and Dr. Tedeschi began more intensive discussions, which soon included Boulder Crest’s Director of Strategy Josh Goldberg and Dr. Bret Moore, a twice-deployed Army psychologist.
“It was clear that this notion of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) was inherently powerful because it created hope, possibility, and opportunity," said Goldberg. "It flew in the face of the idea that PTSD is a death sentence. The real question was whether we could leverage military-style training to enable people who were struggling with PTSD to achieve PTG, and to sustain that PTG permanently."
In May 2014, Falke gathered the best and brightest from the programs he had observed to create a Posttraumatic Growth-based program called Warrior PATHH, which stands for Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes. The Warrior PATHH would be the first-ever program designed specifically to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth.
The curriculum starts with a 7-day intensive and immersive initiation. This is followed by 18-months of training, support and accountability.
After a year-and-a-half of research, development and testing, Goldberg began work on a program that would ensure Warrior PATHH could be effectively put into place. Dr. Tedeschi and Dr. Moore began a comprehensive longitudinal study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The study focused on three critical areas: symptom reduction, quality of life improvement, and Posttraumatic Growth. Nearly 12 months into the study, it became clear that Warrior PATHH delivered results that far surpassed traditional treatments.
“We knew that we had to get away from the idea of helping people learn to live with a diminished version of themselves. We had to ensure that they could live great lives, filled with passion, purpose and service," said Goldberg. "The results show that the transformation they experience is nothing short of remarkable. And the best part is that it is sustained over the long haul."
What’s Next: Expanding Warrior PATHH
Falke and Goldberg say that PTG is becoming increasingly well-known. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is one of its most high-profile proponents, even going as far as referencing PTG in a 2015 speech.
“We have the opportunity to turn the tide in a suicide epidemic that has gone from bad to worse over the past 15 years," said Falke. "Expanding Warrior PATHH and training people about Posttraumatic Growth are the key areas of our focus in 2018 and beyond, and we are working collaboratively with VA, DoD, and supportive communities across the nation to that end."
In May 2017, Boulder Crest acquired a 130-acre, fully constructed property outside of Tucson, Arizona. Boulder Crest Retreat Arizona will open on December 1st, 2017. In addition, Boulder Crest is working with partners in Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Washington State to establish Warrior PATHH programs. Boulder Crest has also begun development of the Family PATHH curriculum initiative, which will be ready by December 2018.
Boulder Crest is also planning to launch the Boulder Crest Institute for Posttraumatic Growth in the fall of 2018, focusing on spreading the notion of Posttraumatic Growth globally, and developing programs to support a range of communities, including first responders.