Since 9/11, over 2.5 million U.S. service members have been deployed overseas to combat terrorism in multiple theaters of operation. As a result, there has been an alarming increase among veterans in the incidence of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), difficulties in assimilating back into civilian relationships and, most tragically, suicides. Numerous studies have indicated there is currently a shortfall in veteran access to mental health treatment that is projected to worsen in the near future. In response to this need, we are developing a new treatment facility, Guardian Hills Veterans Healing Center (a Missouri Not for Profit 501c(3) Corporation), to serve the needs of Midwestern veterans and their immediate families. Guardian Hills will be a short-duration, high impact residential treatment facility in the Green Hills Region of Northeast Missouri that would provide veterans (and their partners) suffering from the effects of PTS and moral injury no charge immersive programs in a rural setting.
The property to be developed is part of a 750-acre farm currently consisting of row crop bottoms, pasture, hay ground, Conservation Reserve Program Wildlife Habitat, and oak/hickory forest. Initially, roughly 30 acres will be gifted to Guardian Hills. Currently on this parcel is a 100-year-old gabled barn constructed of white oak timber harvested and milled on the property, a brick garage, a stock barn, and a chicken house. Each of these will be renovated and repurposed with the barn being the centerpiece dining and social center. In addition, five four-bedroom cabins (three for clients and two for staff), as well as a counseling center and both indoor and outdoor equine therapy facilities, will be new construction. Landscaping features will include grottoes, a labyrinth, ponds, a fire ring and natural areas for meditation. Access will be maintained to features on the adjacent farm property including picnic areas, hiking/riding trails and stocked fishing ponds. Future expansion will be achieved by gifting acreage and building sites to Guardian Hills as needed.
In the first phase, the center would be utilized for six retreat programs of roughly one week each per year focusing on 10-12 couples, or 20-24 individual veterans, with the near-future goal of expanding services to provide for other veteran groups and families year-round. These would include PTS, moral injury and sexual abuse. The clinical programs will have an academic affiliation to aid in tracking and assessing longitudinal treatment outcomes and will be based on existing recognized effective curriculum. We are currently working with representatives of the Veterans Administration, University of Missouri and existing national programs. Local therapists would be utilized, in conjunction with Guardian Hills staff, to maintain contact and continuity of care on return home. Ongoing financial support for operations would be primarily from donations, third party payments, fundraising, and grants.
Similar facilities currently exist which have successfully utilized outdoor and retreat centered treatment programs for veterans but few are in the Midwest. By providing a comprehensive facility in relatively close driving proximity to St Louis/Columbia/Kansas City, as well as population and academic centers in Iowa/Illinois/Nebraska/Kansas, travel costs for both staff and residents can be minimized while providing a facility for large veteran demographic regions.