As veterans are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, they are facing serious challenges including PTSD, TBI and other impairments. If untreated, these conditions often lead to additional mental health and physical conditions, relationship difficulties, unemployment, homelessness and suicide. Although effective treatments exist for PTSD and TBI they are not yet being provided in a systematic manner to many veterans because of challenges that extend beyond the services provided by the VA to reach out to the communities where the veterans reside.
Key challenges include the veterans’ perceptions of the negative consequences of seeking psychological care, inadequate availability of mental health professionals to deliver evidence-based treatment, and limited dissemination and implementation. Furthermore, veterans of earlier eras, especially the Vietnam and Golf Wars, account for rising numbers of PTSD since September 11. Recent research suggests the need for services beyond the VA to support rehabilitation of veterans. In addition to professional organizations, local communities need to improve veterans’ access to quality services and utilize treatments to support adjustment and recovery.
Therapeutic recreation has become a prominent modality in mental health treatment programs. Involvement in recreational activities shows a consistent positive relationship in improved self-esteem, self-efficacy, social skills, problem solving and greater levels of cooperation and trust. Through the therapeutic benefits of various recreational endeavors, veterans participate in recreational activities that address PTSD and TBI and impacts adjustment and community reintegration.
The community based organizations that offer these activities are predominantly staffed by well-meaning volunteers who typically have little or no training in PTSD, TBI, other disabilities and the complexity of the issues that flow from these situations. In addition, veterans, VA personnel, community mental health providers, occupational therapists, and other health care professionals and therapists are not up to date on the latest research and findings in this area of healing. As such, training in this area of health care and the effectiveness of evidence-based recreational healing is imperative.
Involvement with evidenced-based recreational services may also address the veterans’ resistance to seeking medical and mental health services allowing greater access to services including vocational rehabilitation and medical care through their local Veterans Affairs Medical Centers that supports the veterans’ continued rehabilitation and recovery.
W.A.T.E.R.S. was created by a collaboration of mental health care professionals and dedicated volunteers who have been involved in evidenced-based recreational services for veterans for many years. Recognizing the need for raising the level of research, understanding and education in this area, we have embarked on the task of putting on workshops and conferences to provide training to VA staff, mental health providers and community-based volunteers. After attending these events, participants will be better prepared to assist veterans with disabilities in recreational activities so that they can better meet the challenges that they face each day.