One of the biggest struggles for veterans returning home is dealing with stress and emotional trauma. New programs for outdoor activities are looking at how they can help alleviate some of that trauma.
Many veterans struggle with psychological issues upon returning home and aren’t get the attention and treatment they need for these issues. As more and more troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan, effectively treating both physical and mental issues for these veterans has once again gained attention in the national spotlight.
What Programs Are Available For Veterans?
Recreation and outdoor programs for veterans are being introduced to help improve psychological well being, social functioning, and general life outlook. Researchers are discovering that these types of activities are making an impact and that many veterans prefer outdoor activities to traditional clinical treatments.
Programs for veterans such as Returning Warriors, Project Healing Waters, and Wounded Warriors In Action are studying the effects of such activities on their participants. Physical activities include backpacking, canoeing, rafting, and fishing. The focus was kept on the activities themselves rather than their therapeutic effects. Agricultural activities were also made available by sponsorship of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. There were no formal practices such as therapy, medication, or psychological counseling included in the program.
Veterans Response To Outdoor Programs
Veterans were recruited and took surveys both before and after the program was completed. Each outdoor recreation program lasted between four and seven days. Most of the participants were male and between ages 30-49 years. They had mostly served in the military in the past 10 years or so. 54% of the participants said they suffered from mental issues on a daily basis and about 70% had been treated in the past for mental health or substance abuse issues.
After the program concluded, participants were once again given a survey where they were asked several questions and asked to respond on a five point scale. Some questions included “In the last few weeks, how often have you felt like your life had clear goals or purpose?” or “When confronted with a difficult situation how frequently do you try to look on the bright side of things?”. The questions were designed to assess any changes in psychological state, outlook on life, and general social functioning.
Program Deemed A Success
The outcome of the studies showed a significant change in these three areas after the program was completed. The success of the program can be attributed to the time spent in natural environments, challenging each participant on a personal level, and encouraging a sense of camaraderie with other veterans.
Further research is being done to assess the long term effects of such programs. In the mean time awareness of the issue is growing among Americans. In President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, he brought national attention to the challenges returning veterans have to face. Effectively managing the mental issues these veterans struggle with can help provide a smoother transition when returning home and to new routines.