Fort Bliss’ Restoration and Resilience Center
Vicki Thomas, Ph.D, and chief of the Restoration and Resilience Center at Fort Bliss, has been astounded by the suffering the Soldier-patients have brought to her facility.
“Part of the success in treating the Soldiers is sticking with them long enough to get them to know and stay in touch with the causes of their anxiety until it lessens and becomes tolerable; if not, they back off, hide out and leave,” Thomas said.
The center was established in 2005 by Dr. John Fortunato, a Vietnam veteran, Benedictine monk and clinical psychologist who was instrumental in founding the center and was succeeded by Thomas.
He worked with Soldiers returning from Afghanistan who did not want to be labeled as unfit for duty, but had no other options. His goal according to Thomas was to “see if we could come up with a program to get Soldiers back to ‘fit for duty’ status.”
Money was available to fight the global war on terror, so other programs and resources were available for examination to determine what might work. Many ideas were generated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“Fortunato had some of the practices in place to develop the center,” said Thomas, who went back and looked at other possible program approaches through a large body of literature. Currently, treatments from the Eastern hemisphere include reiki, acupuncture and massage therapy. Thomas emphasizes that Eastern medicine is neither new nor un-researched.
“They’re just new to the westerners,” Thomas said. “It’s really only been in the last few years that we’ve had people from the Mexican, Columbian, Canadian and German military who are also open to alternative treatments, and they’ve all come on site.”
Thomas cited one way Reiki, a method of healing using touch, could be used by the Soldiers.
“Reiki doesn’t always involve touch,” said Thomas. “It’s a way to take your physiological processes and learn to manage them yourself naturally rather than taking medication. With bio-feedback one takes his or her physiological processes and learns how to manage them through calming other physiological systems. The center has both group and one-on-one meetings.”
Thomas recommends group therapy as an effective means of combating the invisible wounds of battle.
“[Post-traumatic stress disorder] can make a Soldier feel very alone and very confused,” said Thomas. “But, when they’re in a room full of other Soldiers and see an NCO they look up to and respect going through the same thing, it makes it more acceptable. More importantly, it makes it more understandable. Group is so powerful,” she said.
A routine day involves building relationships. Soldiers attend morning formation at 7:30 a.m. and follow their schedules to 3:30 p.m. Some appointments may be as late as 6:30 p.m. They attend talk/ therapy sessions with a psychologist and attend group therapy and massage sessions.
“Every Soldier has a partner he can talk with, because it’s almost impossible to go along without having stress in life today, no matter the cause,” Thomas said. “The goal of the program is to get Soldiers to take skills they are relearning outside the building and make sure they are adapting to the outside environment and not the one in the building. Staff takes them to a busy department store or amusement park, where they are outside their comfort zone.
“Staff goes along to get to know the Soldier on a different level,” continued Thomas. “We could get Soldiers comfortable in this building so they function very well, but that’s not our goal. It is to get them to take those skills they learned in the building outside and apply them.”
To make sure they’re functioning in that particular situation, part of the restoration and resilience approach to treatment is situational.
“Is the Soldier able to deal with stress better than when they came into … the program?” asked Thomas. “There is a 98 percent success rate where they are able to interact, where they are able to get along with wife, children, civilians, roads and driving jobs.
“Currently, having been diagnosed as suffering from PTSD no longer means one must retire from active duty, as long as the servicemember enrolls in a rehab program,” continued Thomas. “The ones that I have kept in touch with are back in school, doing productive things. … Many of them have gone back to work. Even those who weren’t able to stay here are out helping other Soldiers and veterans in some other way. Our mission at the Fort Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center is to return them [until they are] ‘fit for duty’ and ready to rejoin the fighting force.”
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