Local veteran puts on Gala for Warrior Camp
JAFFREY — Saturday night’s Warrior Camp Gala at the Shattuck Golf Club raised about $10,000 to support the treatment of active military members and veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Warrior Camp founder Eva J. Usadi of New York City told gala attendees the intensive one-week program was created to save lives. Every day one active military member commits suicide, she said, and the suicide rate is even higher in the veteran population in which 22 veterans commit suicide a day.
Warrior Camp is held a few times a year at Touchstone Farm in Temple. But Usadi is hoping to raise funds to build a full-time facility for Warrior Camp in New York eventually.
There are three components to Warrior Camp, Usadi said: equine assisted psychotherapy, yoga and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.
PTSD is a physical and biological reaction to trauma that cannot be properly treated through talk therapy and medication, Usadi said.
Because of their approach, Usadi said 68 percent of the participants who arrive at Warrior Camp with chronic PTSD no longer meet that diagnosis by the end of the week.
Graduates of the camp have urged Usadi to add a fourth component to the program: community.
“They train together. They live together and they go to war together in very tightly knit units and some of the people have said we have created that feeling again that nobody has had since they had been discharged,” Usadi said.
PTSD is unseen by most Americans, she said.
“I think there are periods of time when it gets a lot of attention which is when something terrible happens to a veteran,” Usadi said. “Such a small percentage of our population goes to war that most Americans don’t get what a big challenge this is.”
Warrior Camp alums Jennifer Pacanowski of Allentown, Pa., and Kevin McMahon of Old Lyme, Conn., attended the gala to talk about the challenges of PTSD and their success at Warrior Camp.
The veterans shared similar stories, including drinking too much when they returned from Iraq and being placed on more and more prescription drugs by the VA.
What many people don’t know is that active duty members end up being placed on several different medications even before they are discharged, Pacanowski said, citing medications for anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Warrior Camp has a physician on hand to help participants get off these and other prescription drugs, Usadi said.
“We’ve had people come in on 18, 20 medications and leave on three,” Usadi said. “Most things the people are on are not helpful, it’s the wrong dosage and it’s not good, it affects people’s nervous systems.”
McMahon talked about how he denied his condition for years and shared a story about his attempt at suicide.
“Three-hundred million people in this country, only one percent of Americans join the military, a total volunteer force. And it took me a few years to utter the saying PTSD, drinking too much, I found myself in a spiral and then I found Warrior Camp,” McMahon said.
Pacanowski said she attended talk therapy for years without out being able to overcome her PTSD.
“The thing is you can’t talk your nervous system out of being traumatized,” she said.
So Pacanowski turned to writing, she said. Saturday night she read several of her poems that touched on the suicide of friends, her experiences in Iraq and homeless veterans.
“To support your veterans you have to listen to them. You have to listen to their stories. That’s the ritual of coming home,” she said.
Warrior Camp has helped Pacanowski in several ways since she attended it in January. She has a therapy dog that she can now travel without.
McMahon also attended in January and said it has given him several new tools to handle PTSD.
“You learn to deal with it internally as opposed to through medication,” McMahon said. “What they do is miraculous.”
The gala was organized by local veteran Thomas C. Harvey of Jaffrey, who served in the U.S. Army for more than 20 years, retiring as a Sergeant First Class in 2005. He first learned of the camp last year when was asked to be a volunteer.
Saturday night he was awarded a certificate as an honorary alumni of Warrior Camp.
Harvey said his primary goal in holding the gala was to raise awareness about PTSD. He said he plans to continue the gala every year.
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