By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
Addiction treatment for firefighters and EMS personnel in an atmosphere that provides respect, safety and security for those seeking help. Along with top-notch mental health and addiction treatment professionals.
Every day that I wake up on the “right side of the grass” is a good day, and last Friday was a great day! After traveling the day before from our home outside of Charleston, West Virginia, I participated in the first meeting of the Honorary Board of Advisors for Warriors Heart just outside of Bandera, Texas (roughly 50 miles northwest of San Antonio).
I found myself being part of an outstanding group of individuals from all walks of life. Many had extensive military backgrounds with tons of leadership experience. Others were from the business world, people with a wide range of backgrounds in starting and selling businesses, venture capital, and experience working on boards of directors for non-profit organizations
So why had this awesome group been assembled? To provide guidance and direction and strategic input to the management team for Warriors Heart, the first of its kind residential treatment facility dedicated to the mission of helping America’s warriors, firefighters, EMS providers and law enforcement officers in their efforts to “regain who they were.”
(For the sake of brevity, from here on out in this piece I’m going to use the term “warrior” as an all-inclusive term for military personnel, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics, and law enforcement officers).
Every day, we lose good people to suicide, depression, PTSD, and substance abuse. Twenty-two military personnel take their own lives every day; a firefighter commits suicide on average every 48-72 hours. Beyond those numbers, thousands more are struggling with alcohol or substance abuse as they try to cope with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS).
Josh and Lisa Lannon and Tom Spooner are the trio that founded Warriors Heart with a vision to provide a new and innovative way to help warriors overcome the obstacles that PTS has put before them. The Warriors Heart approach is grounded in the belief that great things are possible when individuals are in a place where they can feel respect, safety, validation, and connection.
Warriors Helping Warriors
Fellow warriors who have the same experiences help create that bond where the warrior feels welcome and understood. Together with mental health professionals, this team brings a great depth of knowledge and training—both personal and professional—to the table that enables them to understand the issues that may be unique to warriors struggling with addiction and mental health issues brought on by PTS.
In future articles, I’ll go into more depth about the 28-day program and what it offers to warriors struggling to find the person they used to be. For right now, let me tell you a little bit about the place itself because it’s unlike any other mental health and addiction treatment facility I’ve ever heard of.
The Home of Warriors Heart
At first glance, it looks like a small junior college campus or corporate conference center; and in fact, in its prior life it was an executive retreat and conference facility for one of the largest energy companies in the southwestern United States.
Warriors Heart is located on a 543-acre site just outside of Bandera, Texas. And nothing about it “screams out” medical facility of any type. Josh, Lisa and Tom set out to create a space that looks and feels comfortable because they knew that healing process can be uncomfortable, but the individual’s surroundings don’t have to be. No white walls or glaring lights here!
Warriors Heart can accommodate 40 resident patients at a time; separate lodging buildings with private and shared suite-like rooms—which rival any hotel with a top Trip Advisor rating—allow both male and female warriors to live on site with a sense of safety and security.
The other facilities include: a dining room (with an on-site chef who creates amazing meals!); a recreation room with a foosball table, billiards tables, and tables for card games; a fitness room; two lakes for fishing (a favorite activity for patients and staff alike), running/walking trails, and an unbelievable amount of wide-open space where warriors can reflect, dream or just chill. (While touring those wide-open spaces aboard ATVs, my group spotted what had to be a 70-80 pound porcupine! Honest!)
During my brief two-day stay, I was also able to have conversations with several of the current residents in the program, two of which were firefighters. One was an individual who’d completed his residency and was getting ready to return home to South Carolina. His moving story of where he was—rock bottom and on the verge of taking his own life—and where he is now (ready to return to his home and his family as “the guy I was before this all happened” was both moving and inspiring.
The other individual was someone who was halfway through his 28-day stay with the program. He described in great detail his own struggle with PTS and his descent into addiction to drugs and alcohol. What really had an impact on me was his honesty and humility as he described what he’d done to himself, his family and his co-workers. He said, quite honestly, that he’d never have been able to have such a conversation with a total stranger, albeit a fellow firefighter, before he came to Warriors Heart
When I asked him if he felt this experience was really going to change the way he lived his life, he responded with a resounding, “It will. It has to. Because where I was headed is not a place that anyone should ever be.”
I can’t really add any more to that