Guardian Hills Veterans Healing Center, A Missouri Not For Profit corporation with Federal 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Status, is developing a new short-duration, immersive residential retreat facility to serve Midwestern veterans, and their immediate families that are dealing with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Moral Injury (MI).
“Our mission is to provide the resources to facilitate the development of positive responses to the physical, emotional and relational injuries which impact those who have served as the guardians of our nation.”
By providing a retreat facility in relatively close proximity to multiple population and academic centers, travel and operational costs for staff and participants can be minimized while furnishing a sorely needed resource for a large, underserved veteran demographic region.
WHO WE SERVE
Since 9/11, over 2.5 million U.S. service members have been deployed overseas in the Global War on Terror (GWOT). As a result, there has been an alarming increase among returning service members in the incidence of PTS, MI, difficulties in assimilating back into civilian relationships and, most tragically, suicides. Veterans Administration sponsored studies have noted a 13.5% overall incidence of PTS in GWOT veterans, whether they deployed or not. This figure increases to between 16 – 40% for those in combat zones. Annually, 140,000 new veterans apply for VA medical benefits with 41% of these meeting screening criteria for mental health services, with PTS being among the most common diagnoses. Narrowing the focus to Missouri, where Guardian Hills Veterans Healing Center (GHVHC) is located, and the greater Midwest region, the scope of the service population can be better appreciated. VA data from 2016 indicated there are an estimated 60,000 GWOT veterans living in Missouri with 8,100 of these veterans meeting the diagnostic criteria for PTS and MI. Projections call for this number to increase substantially over the next decade as further military separations occur. Using the same VA database, in the immediate six state region of MO, IA, KS, NE, IL and AR, there are over 34,000 GWT veterans with PTSD or MI. Even more staggering, this does not include Vietnam Era Veterans, of which there are 161,900 in Missouri alone. The current incidence of PTS in this group is unknown, but initial screening demonstrated that 30% of combat zone Vietnam veterans demonstrated PTS.
THE PROBLEM WE ARE ADDRESSING
PTS and MI can significantly impact an individual’s wellbeing and ability to lead a healthy, productive life. Current and projected shortages in mental health resources exist, particularly in rural areas. The consequences of untreated PTS/MI to veterans, families and society are substantial with ongoing family strain, employment difficulties and increased rates of both physical and mental health issues. Most salient to the general public are the rates of veteran death by suicide. Current estimates demonstrate that between 22 and 24 veterans of all service eras commit suicide daily despite increasing recognition and expanded efforts at intervention. Further, both the Army and Marine Corps reported increased active-duty suicides in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. Unfortunately, Missouri ranks in the top 10 states for veteran suicides.
WHAT WE Offer
GHVHC offers free of charge one-week residential retreat programs for veterans in a 28-acre rural campus setting. The facility, located near Kirksville, Missouri, includes three residential cabins, a 12,000 square foot multipurpose arena, an art/yoga building and a renovated historic barn which serves as the dining and social center. Multiple natural features are integrated into the curriculum. Retreat programs utilize immersive educational and therapeutic experiences which include the use of horses, archery, art, yoga, kayaking, a labyrinth and other-directed activities. The overall goal is to provide the greatest benefit in the shortest period by aiding in the formation of coping skills and recovery activities that are then utilized by the veterans themselves, as well as by their local support and treatment resources in order to help veterans thrive. Follow-up support and assistance is provided by regularly scheduled contacts and identifying the appropriate level of ongoing intervention as determined at the retreat’s conclusion. Retreat based programs have been proven to be an effective modality for veteran PTS in numerous studies, however few are located in the Midwest. Numerous national and regional experts in the field of veteran PTS have contributed to our curriculum planning, development and implementation. Expansion of programs to include couples, families, military sexual trauma and first responders is planned. Pilot training programs are tentatively scheduled to begin late Fall 2023 when construction is completed, with full retreats beginning in Spring 2024. Administrative headquarters are in Columbia, Missouri.