FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- After more than a decade of war, the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from combat trauma has taken its toll on the nation's armed forces.
Trauma that occurs during combat often manifests into post-traumatic stress disorder, while traumatic brain injuries have become increasingly common among military ranks.
As an occupational therapist, Jenny Owens works with active duty service members with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Through her practice, she began to witness the struggle her patients were having from their experiences in combat.
"The question that a lot of these guys would raise in the middle of a session was 'How do I bare the weight of living when my brothers and sisters have died?' Or 'How can I ever forgive myself for not dying?' she said.
With the help of her husband, Evan, who is certified in military ministry, Jenny began to search for answers to find a way to help.
"I believe that not everybody is called to fight this war, but everybody is called to serve," she said. "How could I serve and help in that area, and how could I help bring these individuals from a place of little hope in many cases, to a place of purpose and restoration?"
The call to serve began when Jenny and Evan cofounded REBOOT Combat Recovery in 2011. The purpose of the program is "to help service members and their Families heal from the spiritual wounds of combat and trauma," she said.
The Fort Campbell Soldier and Family Assistance Center will host the next session of REBOOT Combat Recovery, June 1. Sessions are held from 6 until 8 p.m., every Monday for 12 consecutive weeks. Dinner is served at each session and child care is provided through Child, Youth and School Services.
The program addresses symptoms of combat trauma-related issues such as addiction, dysfunctional relationships, depression and anxiety, as well as the spiritual roots found beneath the surface, Jenny said.
"REBOOT exists to see the person transform and sometimes that requires going deeper and talking about the issues from a spiritual standpoint," she said.
Jenny said, REBOOT Combat Recovery is different from other organizations that treat service members for combat-related issues because privacy is paramount. The program is a nonprofit organization and does not provide the military with participant information.
" … for many service members that is a barrier to seeking help, just not wanting to be labeled or there being a stigma around receiving mental health treatment," she said.
REBOOT Combat Recovery also believes that trauma affects the entire Family, Jenny said.
"We really feel that trauma impacts the entire Family, especially the husband and wife unit," she said. "So, we opened REBOOT up to spouses and service members to come through together because they both really need to receive healing for trauma and the secondary trauma that they experienced."
During the first session, Jenny said they discuss everything participants can expect during the course of the program, and they realize there may be some who will participate more than others.
"We realize that people fall into one of two categories when they come to REBOOT," she said. "You were either drug there by your spouse or you drug your spouse."
However, she said the level of commitment to the program usually changes with each session as participants began to see the level of unity the group experiences.
"Having been at Fort Campbell now for over four years, we really have a community that has been built up of individuals who have gone through the course and have come back around to serve," she said.
In 2012, Bryan Flanery hit bottom -- he was suffering from traumatic brain injury and as a result of combat trauma, he was in constant pain -- he attempted suicide. After the failed attempt to take his life, he found REBOOT Combat Recovery. "I had tried everything else, so I went to REBOOT. After about the third week, I remember just thinking, finally I found something that is working," Flanery said.
At the time, Flanery was still on active duty, so after graduating from the program, he became the noncommissioned officer-in-charge until he was medically retired in October 2014.
"I went to Evan and Jenny and I said 'hey, I don't know if you guys can use me … but I just want to help other people know about this,'" he said.
Now, Flanery is the outreach coordinator, and will be the lead for the session beginning June 1.
"As the outreach coordinator I meet with a lot of Soldiers to get them involved in REBOOT, and I meet with local nonprofits and pastoral figures to see if we can partner to kind of help them help their congregation of military or give spiritual healing for whoever is participating in their organization," said Flanery.
When Flanery attended REBOOT, he realized that people are made up of a mind, body and a soul and spiritual healing is just as important as physical and mental healing, he said.
"If someone goes to war and gets shot in the leg, nobody questions that there is a physical wound to the body, nobody questions that there could be a mental wound there, but as far as spiritual wounds there is no one that really addresses those," he said. "That is what REBOOT does."
REBOOT Combat Recovery saved Flanery's life and he has no issue telling people, he said. "After that failed suicide attempt, I would have just tried again had it not been for REBOOT."
If you have tried everything else and it hasn't worked or it hasn't healed you completely, then why not try REBOOT? asked Flanery.
"It's not a support group, it's a course. There is a curriculum," Flanery said. "You find out that … you are not the only one, and there is a community of people that suffering just like you. There is something amazing when you walk through this together with somebody else."
"Service members are not forgotten, service members are not unloved," he said.
To register, visit rebootrecovery.com or call (931) 292-2011.
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