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Warriors Heart introduces specialized treatment for veterans, law enforcement

July 21, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Operating a network of six private alcohol and drug treatment centers from 2002-13, Josh and Lisa Lannon came to a realization: The unique stress and trauma faced by veterans, law enforcement, firefighters and first responders called for a specialized treatment facility to match.

“It was really difficult for them to open up in a group setting with those who did not experience the same type of trauma—PTSD based on the front line in combat, life and death situations,” Lisa Lannon says. “Being a former law enforcement officer, I sponsored a number of individuals going through the program and saw it wasn’t working for them in that setting. They did great in individual sessions, but it’s really hard to open up in a group setting.

“We decided we wanted to be part of the solution and open a facility dedicated to our warrior class, where they have that peer-to-peer style setting where they come in and can relate almost immediately.”

In April, the Lannons teamed with Tom Spooner, a U.S. Army veteran with 21 years of service, to open Warriors Heart, a private, 40-bed inpatient treatment center that sits on 540 acres on the outskirts of San Antonio. What sets the facility apart from other centers that treat the “warrior class” is that Warriors Heart is open exclusively to men and women who are currently active in the U.S. Armed Forces, or are law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics or first responders.

”With our other facilities, the general population … we love them dearly, but most of them are just kids in their 20s who still live with Mom and Dad,” says Josh Lannon. “That population doesn’t mix with someone who has gone to war for multiple tours and been in service to their country.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 22 veterans die by suicide each day, and according to a 2010 Forensic Examiner report, a law enforcement officer in the U.S. dies by suicide every 17 hours. Moreover, at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or depression, and 50% of those with PTSD do not seek treatment, according to a 2014 RAND study.

To that end, Warriors Heart offers residential treatment, day treatment, outpatient and sober living programs.

“To see our guys come in here and know most of them have had that thought [of suicide] and know we are making a difference in reducing those statistics is rewarding,” Lisa Lannon says.

A key component of treatment at Warriors Heart is helping patients to re-establish connections with those around them, particularly through the center’s peer-to-peer network. Annette Hill, clinical director at Warriors Heart, says it is common for veterans to develop feelings of isolation coming back from intense situations where strong brotherhoods and sisterhoods are formed.

Spooner adds that in many cases, patients’ need for treatment stems from a lack of emotional training.

“There’s more to it, but when we talk to police chiefs and sheriffs, and people in the military and veterans, the big thing we’re finding out is that they’ve done no training when it comes to emotional and mental health,” Spooner says. “It’s just the same as if you haven’t done any training with your physical health. You’re not failing, you’re not weak, you’re just untrained.”

Treatment goes beyond addressing patients’ job-related trauma, Hill says. Lifelong issues are also explored, and patients’ family members are incorporated into programming.

For now, the focus of the Warriors Heart leadership team is on fine-tuning its model at its San Antonio facility, but Josh Lannon says he hopes to expand the concept to additional locations in the future.

“We know there is no shortage of warriors that are struggling,” he says. “There is going to be a need for a safe place where a warrior can heal with dignity and respect, and be honored for who they are and what they do as protectors.”

Tom Valentino is Senior Editor for Addiction Professional.