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 retreat 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 retreat facility in the Green Hills Region of Northeast Missouri that will provide veterans (and their partners) suffering from the effects of PTS and moral injury no charge immersive week long retreat programs in a rural setting.
The property being 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 has been 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 are being renovated and repurposed with the barn being the centerpiece dining and social center. In addition, three four-bedroom cabins (two for clients and one for staff) and an indoor/outdoor multi-use arena facility, are new construction. Landscaping features will include grottoes, a labyrinth garden, ponds, an outdoor fireplace and natural areas/trails. Access will be maintained to features on the adjacent farm property including picnic areas, hiking/riding trails and stocked fishing ponds. Potential future expansion will be achieved by gifting acreage and building sites to Guardian Hills as needed. Building site clearance was completed in August 2021 with construction beginning Spring 2022. Completion is tentatively scheduled for Summer/Fall 2023.
In the first phase, the center will be utilized for retreat programs of one week each focusing on 8 individual veterans with the near-future goal of expanding services to provide for veteran couples and families. Programs will include PTS and moral injury, with military sexual abuse to be added as a separate retreat. 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, existing programs and recognized national experts in veteran PTS. Local therapists and support systems will be utilized, in conjunction with Guardian Hills staff, to maintain contact and continuity of care on return home. Ongoing financial support for operations will be primarily from donations, third party payments, fundraising, and grants.
Similar facilities currently exist which have successfully utilized outdoor and retreat centered 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.