by Comprehensive Staff
“For me, I can’t imagine being where I am right now, doing it any differently.
Not all wounds are visible on the outside. Veterans who serve in the military are at a higher risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide than civilians. Veterans also make up approximately nine percent of all homeless adults in the United States.
B.J. Wolf, a combat veteran of the US Army and client at Comprehensive Healthcare, was once part of that nine percent. For some time, BJ was able to suppress memories of traumatic events experienced in combat, but 30 years of suppressing memories and ignoring flash backs had started to build.
In the Military
I grew up in Yakima, moved here when I was three. My dad was an urologist, and I went to Eisenhower High School. When I was a junior in high school, I was motivated by my friends and the news about the failed Iranian hostage rescue of 58 Americans in the embassy of Tehran to join the Army. The news came out when I was walking to school on the morning of my 17th birthday. I thought ‘I wanted to be one of those guys’. I joined the service. I went into radio communications, through school and ended up in Germany for about a year and a half and I met one of the supervisors in another unit and he had been a communications guy for a Special Operations unit, and I had been curious about special operations. Winter of 1983, and I was asked to take a stack of tests. I mailed them off, completed everything and a couple months later, I got orders in the Spring of 1984 to go to the DC area to be communication center for a special operations unit - a unit that came about after that failed mission. The US found the needed more units to provide resources on the ground, refueling, airfields, making sure guys are fed and planes can land in the desert, and we need more information on the ground. So, a handful of units popped up, including mine. I was almost 21 when I was deployed with a forward communications group. They would set up equipment in an army post, embassy, etc., and others would do it on the ground with the troops. I was in the offices, went through SF school, then went through assessment and selection course. A little over 500 people started, and at the end, there were 28. The 28 of us went to a year-long course and 11 of us finished. Then, I was assigned to a specific forward communications team. I did this for about six years. I was there at Earnest Will, and I was also in Panama.
He had been in and out of mental health services for about a decade before he found help at Comprehensive Healthcare. In October of 2017, BJ went to the emergency room because he was feeling severely depressed and experiencing thoughts of suicide. He met with designated crisis responder from Comprehensive Healthcare who recommended that he be admitted into an Evaluation and Treatment facility. Once he was stabilized and ready to be discharged, he had nowhere to go. He also needed follow-up care.
BJ was put in touch with the local Veterans Affairs (VA) office, who met with him while he was receiving treatment at Pathways, one of Comprehensive Healthcare’s residential treatment facilities. The VA was able to confirm his health coverage and schedule him medical appointments at the VA clinic and with VA therapists. The VA also gave him the option to move into an apartment by himself, or go to the Veterans Initiative Project (VIP) House through Comprehensive Healthcare.
“I was given the choice between VIP House and an apartment by myself, which would be bad for me—to be alone and depressed, not a good idea, so I chose the VIP,” said BJ.
The VIP House, a collaboration with the Veterans Administration Health Care for Homeless Veterans program, provides transitional housing for homeless veterans. About 20 years ago, the house was donated to Comprehensive Healthcare by the City of Yakima because of its poor condition and the negative impact on the community. With the help of a VA grant, Comprehensive Healthcare was able to completely remodel the house and transform it into transitional housing and a positive asset for the neighborhood. The program is designed to give each resident a safe and stable living environment while exploring employment opportunities and seeking permanent housing. Their objective is to give homeless veterans an opportunity to become self-sufficient and improve their quality of life. In the past five years, VIP has served 50 veterans and more than half have been successful in transitioning to permanent housing.
The VIP House has a case manager and team leader with offices located on the first floor of the house. They provide ongoing support for the residents through case management and monthly treatment team meetings. They also assist with addressing employment, medical and behavioral health care needs, and coordinate closely with representatives from the VA.
Amber Wise, BJ’s case manager at the VIP House made a tremendous impact on BJ. He thinks back to when he first arrived at the VIP House, and how she was so supportive throughout his time there, and was especially helpful when he first moved in. BJ also frequently visited the Sunrise Club, where Tom Hoisington and Pam Russel were monumental in helping make sure he was able to receive services and assist with scheduling appointments.
For BJ, one of the key elements of the VIP House was the monthly team treatment meetings with the case manager, team leader and the VA liaison. BJ recalls his first treatment meeting, saying it was very different than he expected.
“It was my first week there, and I didn’t know anything about what they were. I was nervous, so when I got there, I started listing off all of the things I planned to do and get in order so I could leave the house. They told me, ‘Stop, and slow down. Get yourself straight, find some care, then we will work through this.’ That was huge for me. If I had received a different response, I would have tried to barrel through and likely ended up back where I was. Instead, they wanted me to take the time to get healthy.”
BJ did as they advised. He met with a psychiatrist from the VA’s Seattle office using a telehealth video connection, and saw a therapist at Comprehensive Healthcare’s Yakima Center for treatment to focus on managing his depression and PTSD. At Comprehensive Healthcare, he participated group counseling and in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, an evidence-based treatment service for PTSD.
“Around the holidays I started EMDR for PTSD and it really focuses on experiences. It is strange, and immediately you are alive and there, and working through it. It is an experience you have to go through it to really understand, but I did that for a couple months,” said BJ. He also says that now after therapy, he still has memories of the traumatic events but says they are no longer invasive.
He spent a year and a half in the VIP House while receiving treatment including 20 weeks of depression counseling.
“The important thing is that it wasn’t a rush for me to get help and work through it.”
November 27 marks two years since BJ moved into the VIP House. He is now a full-time resident manager at an apartment complex and enjoys knitting, saying it is a great way to relax but keep the mind focused on something positive. He also sits on the VIP Advisory Board comprised of a past resident (BJ), Comprehensive Healthcare staff, American Legion Women’s Auxiliary volunteers, Yakima County VA and representatives from organizations providing local resources for veterans.
He continues to go to outpatient therapy, but is feeling very well overall. “I look back at that guy now, and you wouldn’t recognize him,” said BJ.
BJ says one of the most important pieces of advice that he can give to others is to be a strong self-advocate for your care and recovery needs. He acknowledged that some treatments did not work for him. What works for one person may not work for another. For example, he remembers PTSD Group Counseling was very effective for others, but for him, one-on-one outpatient therapy is what helped him work through PTSD. He encourages others to find a provider who is a good fit and seek out treatments that work well for you. Most of all, BJ says to ask for help and work on being ready to make the needed change for your recovery.
“You have to be ready to own it. …to work through it, realize there are issues, then address and work through them. It is not just ‘oh, buck up and move on.’ I did that for 30 years and it doesn’t work. Once you start learning that the brain can be mean, you also learn how you listen to it and react to it.”
Veterans residing in the VIP House are all referred by the VA through a screening, orientation, and eligibility assessment process. Anyone wishing to enroll in services at Comprehensive Healthcare can call (509) 575-4084. For veterans seeking services, a referral from the VA will expedite the process. If you are already using VA medical services, ask your primary care provider for a referral or call the VA information line at (800) 827-1000.