If you guys aren't familiar with the Adaptive Performance Center gyms here in Montana- you've gotta check em out. Especially if you or a loved one is a veteran. Check out this open letter on combating the veterans health crisis. The APC has veterans only gyms in Billings and Helena.


The veterans’ health crisis calls for funding more non-clinical solutions

By Matt Benowitz and Karen Pearson

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, while expecting different results. There are few issues with as many missed opportunities as veterans’ health and quality-of-life. Whether lacking creativity or undervaluing individualism, most current programs are not fully serving those who served us. Throwing hospitals, doctors, and outreach initiatives at the problem has done little to inhibit our nation’s unacceptably high rate of adverse outcomes for veterans, especially suicide.

Traditional clinical treatment is not accessible, affordable, or even effective on its own. Reintegration requires tremendous vulnerability. Spending too much time in medical settings is often psychologically detrimental. It is a positive feedback loop, or self-fulfilling prophecy: “Well, here I am again. Something must really be wrong with me.” Veterans need to be fulfilled in their lives, engaged in their communities, and comfortable in their own skin. Rehabilitation facilities and counseling centers are just one piece of the puzzle. Over two-thirds of veterans who commit suicide have never contacted support services.

Last year, the Veterans Health Administration’s Behavioral Health Autopsy Program studied thousands of suicides, seeking to pinpoint potential warning signs. The three highest risk factors for veteran suicide are all physical symptoms: pain (55.9%), sleep difficulty (51.7%), and increased health problems (40.7%). All three are alleviated by exercise and social interaction. The implication is clear. There must be more investment in active, veteran-friendly environments which set tangible goals.

Veterans should be provided with enjoyable activity and existential purpose, moving their bodies while stimulating their minds. Self-esteem, positivity, energy, and motivation all flow from there. A 2011 study in Public Health Reports found that veterans “who reported at least 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity twice weekly had significantly decreased odds for new-onset and persistent PTSD symptoms.” Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a renowned trauma researcher, advocates “embodied mindfulness”: Physical conditioning keeps veterans grounded in the “safe” present, separating trauma as part of their past.

What would such resources actually look like, and how would they succeed? You don’t have to use any imagination. In Billings and Helena, the Adaptive Performance Center operates a veterans-only fitness facility. Between both locations, over 1,200 veterans have enrolled as APC members. While based around an accessible-to-all gym, APC is a fully encompassing wellness center. In addition to providing classes and trainers to any veteran who walks in, APC offers occupational therapy, massage/acupuncture, mentorship, veteran advocacy, and a food bank.

When you read feedback from APC members, it is impossible to deny the potency of intersecting a familiar community with a natural activity: 58-year-old T.K. says “APC has changed my life! I have more confidence in myself and am able to put my mental health first now.” 47-year-old M.G. says “APC has given me the connection I lost when I left the military. It is truly a safe space for all veterans… without a doubt APC saved my life…” 41-year-old J.F. says “I feel like I always have somewhere to go, which is rare to find as a veteran.”

Throughout the country, similar recreation-based reintegration programs - equine therapy, outdoor groups, and sports leagues, just to name a few - have instilled normalcy and possibility in thousands of veterans. Community organizations understand the interests and needs of those they serve. They are best-equipped, through camaraderie and exercise, to show veterans that they deserve a secure, healthy place in society. Agencies and benefactors should allocate their support accordingly.

Karen Pearson, LCPC is the co-founder and CEO of the Adaptive Performance Center. Matt Benowitz is a member of AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) serving with APC. You can visit or call the Adaptive Performance Center in Billings [1420 Broadwater Avenue, 406-281-3848] or Helena [2475 N. Cooke Street, 406-422-0966]. Check out APC’s website here (adaptiveperformancecenter.org) or donate to its programs here (adaptive-performance-center.square.site/). If you become a member or supporter of APC, please let them know that you were inspired by this column.


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Gallery Credit: Aaron Flint

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