'Training down' 

Organization says knowledge of body-brain reaction can help troops, vets, families

If former Marine sergeant Dan Taslitz had his way, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans would face no stigma for indicating they're suffering from post-combat stress.

With the military showing signs of the strain drinking, domestic violence, suicide Taslitz isn't gushing with political correctness or idealism. Rather, he wants veterans to better understand how the body and brain react, and continue reacting at home, after prolonged exposure to a stressful environment.

"We are teaching people about the neuropsychological reactions in the body that occur as a result of stress," he says.

The Iraq war veteran is a member of ONE Freedom, a new nonprofit that provides information, including mental exercises, to combat veterans and their families. The idea is to create stronger "warriors," Taslitz says, adding that the mental aspect of fighting in war and then returning home is just as important as learning to fire a rifle.

"We're not teaching troops yet, effectively, the skills to be in a combat environment," he says.

In a June special report, the Military Health Task Force found that 38 percent of Army soldiers, 31 percent of Marines and 49 percent of National Guard service members reported psychological symptoms after returning from deployment.

"The costs of military service are substantial," the report stated. "Many costs are readily apparent; others are less apparent but no less important. Among the most pervasive and potentially disabling consequences of these costs is the threat to the psychological health of our nation's fighting forces, their families and their survivors."

The report, stemming from questions out-of-state senators asked regarding Fort Carson's treatment of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), spoke of poor staffing levels and an "insufficient" system of care.

ONE Freedom is among several nonpartisan organizations trying to fill the gap. The Boulder-based nonprofit plans to work with Fort Carson troops and, soon, troops at several other major Army posts as well as their families and community providers in their psychological safety net.

Elizabeth Hawkins, executive director, says ONE Freedom already is making connections at Fort Carson. Dee McNutt, a Fort Carson spokeswoman, says she doesn't know enough about the organization to comment about its programming.

ONE Freedom started in recent months with $850,000 in seed money from an anonymous donor, Hawkins says. She adds that the organization will expand regionally, then nationally, in coming years.

Taslitz says combat veterans who participate in two free sessions later this month in Colorado Springs will learn that it is normal to be stressed after combat, though individual reactions vary. Moreover, they'll find there are ways to handle the stress beyond lying on a couch and talking to a therapist.

"This is not therapy. This is training," Taslitz says, adding that the idea isn't to challenge traditional behavioral health, but to "expand the realm of what's available."

He calls what ONE Freedom offers, based on scientific research, as "training down" after combat, a supplement for even those already receiving treatment for serious conditions like PTSD.

Those who participate in sessions will learn to rebalance their central nervous system and control emotions and thoughts. Methods can be as simple as focusing on breathing techniques.

"When you're in a combat environment, everything is a potential threat," Taslitz says. "That's good. But when you get here, you actually don't need that."


ONE Freedom workshops

Strength after Service is a one-day program that teaches veterans and family members vital information about the brain and body, and how both are changed under prolonged stress. Presented by combat veterans and health experts, this program is designed specifically for the needs of troops and veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The session is free to those who served in OIF and OEF, plus one family member.

Aug. 11 and 26, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Emerald Valley Ranch, 7855 Old Stage Road

To register, e-mail register@onefreedom.org, or call 303/444-1221 or 888/334-VETS (8387).


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