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Boulder Crest Foundation: Changing the Way We Look at PTSD

By Meg Reichert

I am so excited to cross something off my bucket list. Never in a million years did I think I would have the opportunity to talk to a best-selling author. Never in another million years did I think I would get to interview a best-selling author whose book spoke to my heart. How, you ask, did this opportunity fall into my lap? Our fearless and driven Editor in Chief, Kristin, met Robert Vera at an event in July. Knowing I have a background in mental health, she thought I would be a good fit to speak with him about his book and the work that he does for the Boulder Crest Foundation. Of course, I leapt at the chance!


Robert Vera is the best-selling author of A Warrior’s Faith, the story of Navy SEAL Ryan Job (pronounced Jobe) and his courageous journey to recovery. Ryan, a close friend of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, was shot by a sniper on a rooftop in Ramadi, Iraq.


While his team's dedication to getting their brother to safety is a story of heroism and bravery, it is the journey that Job went on after being delivered to a medical team. He lost his sight as a result of being shot, but this did not stop him from overcoming obstacles that life placed in his path with an astounding, quiet faith.


Ryan got married, climbed Mt. Rainier, hunted elk, completed a college with a perfect 4.0, and was looking forward to the birth of his baby girl. Tragically, Ryan died as a result of a medical mistake. But through a winding path of God’s plan, Ryan fell into Robert Vera’s life, changing Robert’s trajectory.

(Photo Caption: Army Wife Bridget Bohannon and her husband, Eric)

Robert, a Bostonian, left a career in finance in 2000 and moved to Arizona. He transitioned from finance to starting his own physical training business, developing a concept that has received national recognition. Robert met Ryan in 2008 by way of an old friend's brother. The network that brought Robert and Ryan together can only be explained by two things: the familial network that is the United States Military, and God.


Ryan had already returned from Iraq, blind, had a goal of climbing Mt. Rainier and asked Robert if they could train together. Thus begins the life-altering relationship that developed. Through their training and friendship Robert became more and more passionate about veterans - a topic he was always interested in - and the need to improve the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


I wish I could share with you all of the excerpts of Robert’s book that moved me, but I would end up plagiarizing the entire book. I’m not sure if the book touched me because of the raw and emotional approach that Robert shares his precious memories and personal transformation, or if it is because as a military spouse I know so many that are affected by PTSD, or if it is Robert’s passion to improved the ways we work with PTSD. 

 

Robert, who is now working with the Boulder Crest Foundation, has taken the time he spent with Ryan Job to help transform the way that veterans view their PTSD. Robert shared that Ryan was very cut and dry about the events that transpired into losing his sight. He did not waste time feeling sorry for himself, and he did not mince words. He was of the belief that it is the approach that you take to a situation that determines how you react to it.


According to Robert, one of Ryan’s favorite quotes by Marine General Lewis “Chesty” Puller was, “Great. We’re surrounded. Now we can shoot the bastards from any direction and kill the enemy.” Taking this idea of transforming your thought process from a completely dismal situation and convincing yourself that there is a favorable outcome has been paramount in Robert’s mission with veterans.

(Photo Caption: Military Brat, Laura Kennerson, son Maddox, and husband Matt)

Robert says that through knowing Ryan and writing the book, he felt compelled to help veterans create transformation through change. Similar to how we improve our stamina and physical fitness, we change our behavior and transform our mind and body. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, it is how we choose to spend this time that makes the real difference.


Before joining the team at Boulder Crest Robert worked on an individual basis with veterans, working with them in a similar fashion to how he teamed up with Ryan through training. But he felt that he was not doing enough and felt compelled to find a foundation that was already working towards accomplishing the goal of transforming veterans' deep struggle into ground strength and growth. As a result of his searching and speaking at events for A Warrior's Faith, he was introduced to the Boulder Crest Foundation.


Located in Virginia, and now Arizona. Boulder Crest Foundation works to create true transformation for veterans with PTSD. Robert says true transformation means, “Thinking and acting greater than your environment, thinking and acting created than your past, thinking and acting greater than you feel.”

 

Robert stated that only 40 percent of those eligible for using the VA, as a result of PTSD. are using it. Of those using the VA, 67 percent leave before finishing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). Only 10 percent stay for the completion of treatment and zero percent say that it is effective. This is creating a HUGE deficit for veterans who desperately need assistance.


“The VA does not have a waitlist problem, they have an efficacy problem,” says Robert. Due to funding, the VA is unable to explore alternative methods for treatment, so our veterans are stuck on a hamster wheel of treatment and drugs that is not working for them.

 

Insert the Boulder Crest foundation, a place where veterans can join the tribe. "(They’re) not broken," says Robert. "PTSD doesn’t make (them) broken. It makes (them) normal." The responses that a service member's body and brain undergo in stressful situations is their true sixth sense, it is the autonomic response to stress that triggers the “flight or fight” response. The brain wires the body to whatever it can to stay alive, and the symptoms that make up PTSD are the responses to this stress that the brain and body are having difficulty turning off.

(Photo Caption: Army Wife Emily Drum and her husband Conrad)

At Boulder Crest, veterans are able to focus on mindfulness and rewiring their autonomic nervous system to respond to stressors in a different way than it does as a result to their experiences in war. Instead of focusing on the past and experiences, veterans are shown how to focus on the future. Through Warrior PATHH (Progressive Alternative Training for Healthy Heroes) the veterans are taught to reinforce patterns that are already there and to “suffer productively” and develop Post-Traumatic Growth.


The benefit of the Boulder Crest Foundation and the work they do for veterans is that the program is designed to be fluid. This is not the only system that works. They are devoted to growing and honing their methods. Robert says the foundation openly partners with other non-profits to build relationships in an effort to treat veterans more effectively. "The Boulder Crest Foundation may not be perfect, but it works to be,” Robert added.


This is where Robert’s work with the foundation is so crucial. He travels the country speaking on behalf of the foundation and gaining funding so that the foundation can continue to work with veterans and their families, and to constantly improve on themselves. Their goal is to treat the veteran, not to prove the efficacy of their program.

Understanding that the cause of PTSD is a natural reaction that the body undergoes in times of stress has opened up a whole new realm of understanding to me. Once our brain and body start a behavior that works favorably for a period to time, it becomes a habit. So, why are we treating PTSD like this is a mistake that our veterans have made? They have fallen into a habit that worked in their favor in a stressful environment.


When I spoke with Robert it was a lightbulb moment for me. Why are we treating PTSD as something to be ashamed about? Certainly, there are behaviors that transpire as a result of PTSD that need to be improved upon, but if we act like this is a shameful diagnosis that we “treat” with medication to mask symptoms and do not teach our veterans how to be the proverbial phoenix our of the fire, how do we expect to see change?


As a military spouse, I am so hopeful and encouraged by the work of Robert Vera and the Boulder Crest Foundation. I am hopeful for the veterans and soldiers who are suffering from PTSD and feel so hopeless. Hope is what we need in this world, and hope is what the Boulder Crest is providing.

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