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Military and first responders treatment facility opens

By Steven James BCC Editor

Warriors Heart, a private treatment center for active military, first responders and veterans suffering from chemical dependency and post-traumatic stress disorder, held its grand opening on Saturday at the Purple Sage Ranch.
Nearly 20 veterans per day commit suicide, according to a 2016 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study. One law enforcement officer in the U.S. commits suicide every 16 or 17 hours, Warriors Heart Co-founder and former law enforcement officer Lisa Lannon said.
“It’s upsetting to know that we send our guys out to war, and they come back, and there’s not that help that they really need to heal,” Lannon said. “No services catered towards them, other than the VA and other rehab centers. We knew we had to be part of the solution.”
Lannon founded the center with her husband, Josh, and Tom Spooner. Spooner also co-founded Mission 22, an initiative that raises awareness of veteran suicide, and served in the U.S. Army Special Forces as part of his 21-year military career.
Lannon said because she was a law enforcement officer, was the daughter of a Vietnam War veteran with PTSD, was the granddaughter of a World War II veteran and that her husband suffered from alcoholism, she and her husband knew what struggles the family members of military and law enforcement officers went through.
Lannon said one of the differences between Warriors Heart and other inpatient treatment centers in the U.S. is Warriors Heart treats both mental illnesses and drug addiction, not just one or the other.
“Some treatment centers will treat the body like running a house to treat one room. We treat the whole house,” Lannon said. “We clean every room in the person’s house. We go all the way back to childhood.”
Facility tours began at 1, with the ribbon cutting at 4 and the Mission 22 dedication at 5. Nearly 30 people volunteered to help with the day’s events.
In addition to medical treatment, resources at the treatment center include a swimming pool, exercise rooms, spending time with service dogs and doing art therapy, using art to explore one’s thoughts and emotions.
Most people who come to the center are referred by family members, Spooner said. Currently, the center contains 40 beds, with 11 people participating in the 28-day minimum program.
“We look at folks who come from the lowest they have ever been in their lives,” Spooner said. “These people are not thinking of themselves. It’s just not in the wiring of this population.”
The center is not equipped to treat all problems, including violent tendencies and bipolar disorder, he said. When the center cannot treat something, people get sent to other facilities that can give them the level of care they need, he said.
Spooner, who himself struggled with PTSD and mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), said the participants hold one another responsible for attending meals, not sneaking in drugs and making sure they attend group sessions, so they can actually get better.
“We’re not here messing around,” he said.
At the Mission 22 dedication at the War at Home Memorial, several family members of veterans who committed suicide shared stories of their family members’ military service and personal lives. The Memorial is a V-shape of 20 large, steel posts, with the silhouette of a soldier cut into the middle of each. At the bottom right of each post is a giant dog tag.
One person who walked around the memorial throughout the day was Michael Joseph Wargo, who visited the metal post of his son, Michael Christopher Wargo. Michael Joseph said his son enlisted because of 9/11, and was shipped to Afghanistan in 2002.
Michael Joseph said his son returned in 2005 with both arms and legs and no bullet holes, but started suffering from PTSD, a secret he kept from people, including his parents.
Michael Joseph said the day his son died, in 2013, he left a four-and-a-half hour video, talking about why he would not report his PTSD, why he viewed reporting his illness as a weakness, how he lost his 10 best friends and how he never got over his survivor guilt.
“He told us at the end of the video “Please don’t say that I had PTSD, because it’s a stigma, and I’ve looked into it. There’s no cure for it, so please don’t say that I had PTSD, because it gives soldiers a bad name”, Michael Joseph said. He says “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad people out there that want to do us harm and we’re always going to need the military to protect this country, so please don’t say that I had PTSD.”
Clinical Director Annette Hill is a member of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., an organization of people who have lost sons and daughters serving the country. Hill said her son committed suicide because of his PTSD, and does not want anybody else to go through that.
“Part of what we’re looking for is the ability to receive that kind of pain, because it’s big, and to let them know that it’s all right and to validate that it’s the right thing to feel with what you’ve been through,” Hill said. “We help push them through and help make sense of how to adapt and reorganize their thinking. People can’t do that in the line of duty.”