Progress has been slow in getting the federal government to provide a smoother transition for military veterans returning from combat back into civilian life, according to local Iraq veteran and veterans affairs activist Adam McCabe.
While the organization he co-founded, Purple Star Veterans and Families, has been successful in its awareness campaign on the state and local level, “we’ve got a long way to go” to convince the Department of Defense and President Barack Obama that decompression training is critical, McCabe told members of the Glenwood Springs noon Rotary Club Friday.
An organization right here in the Roaring Fork Valley is providing just the type of therapy that struggling veterans and active-duty service members need and deserve, said McCabe, who lives in Carbondale.
In addition to continuing his work with the Purple Star organization and leading veterans support groups locally, McCabe also sits on the board and is active with the Aspen-based Huts for Vets program.
“Over 8,000 veterans commit suicide each year, and by the time many of our veterans ask for help it’s often too late,” McCabe said. “We can do something. And it’s not a question of if it works, it’s a question of implementation.”
Huts for Veterans is one example, he said.
Founded in January 2013, Huts for Veterans brings veterans to the area at no cost to them for a three-day wilderness experience, including a hike and stay at a backcountry huts, communal sharing, formal and informal group discussions, psychological interventions when appropriate and follow-up contacts after they’ve left.
“We still have to patch up the hole people are falling through,” McCabe said of ongoing efforts to create a safety net, through decompression training, as a standard protocol at the time of military discharge.
A wilderness trip, or any kind of outdoor retreat with people who are having the same struggles, is one way to do that, he said.
Through the use of group therapy, readings of classic literature that can stimulate conversations and practices such as mindfulness meditation, Huts for Vets “is truly a life-changing program for these people,” McCabe said.
The organization’s mission is “to help veterans adjust to and enjoy civilian life by gaining tools for enhancing mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health,” according to the Huts for Vets website.
Added McCabe, “Our vets need to come home and be leaders in the community and in business, but we have to invest in them.”
It costs about $10,000 for a group of 12 veterans to take part in Huts For Vets, which relies on donations and grants to support the program, he said. Information on donating can also be found on the website.
As for the larger objective, McCabe said the Colorado Senate and House both passed a resolution this past session supporting the efforts of Purple Star Veterans and Families and urging the federal government to take action.
Similar resolutions are expected to be considered by the legislatures in Utah, Washington and about a dozen other states during the next year.
“This is big, but it’s not enough,” McCabe said.