Albuquerque veterans seeking alternative health and wellness programs have a few new options.
Two local programs, Elemental Health and Wellness Center and Heroes Walk Among US, are helping veterans, for free, to deal with problems they could face when coming back from overseas.
Robert Sher is a combat veteran who said he understands what it feels like to come home and feel alienated from society. He founded the Elemental Health and Wellness Center to help other veterans find jobs, reintegrate into civilian life and, in some cases, get past an alcohol or substance problem, he said.
“Some can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t do anything but think about trauma they’ve experienced in the past. Others feel embarrassed to even be seen asking for help,” he said.
Sher also serves on the board of directors at Heroes Walk Among Us – another organization dedicated to handling Veteran’s affairs, he said.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder occurs in about 11-20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to the National Center for PTSD website.
The center also estimates as many as 10 percent of Gulf War and about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans show symptoms as well.
Returning soldiers have been conditioned to be on alert at all times. It is not easy to simply turn that off, Sher said.
Shane D’Onofrio, founder of Heroes Walk Among Us, said his organization provides therapy through empathy, council and special attention to the unique problems veterans face, he said
“We’re a small organization, but we try to give those men and women who have given us our freedoms the opportunity to get back on their feet,” D’Onofrio said.
D’Onofrio, a Navy Combat Veteran of the Gulf War, said clients find it easier to open up because they feel they relate better to the near all-veteran staff at Heroes.
“Having actually shared many similar experiences, our ability to communicate with our clients makes it easier to establish connections that are typically more difficult compared to more academic approaches,” he said.
Joaquin Alvarez volunteers his time at Heroes Walk Among Us. As an experienced veteran of the Afghanistan War, Alvarez was diagnosed with symptoms of PTSD and described the experience as being quite debilitating at times, he said.
“One of the most difficult aspects of these types of disorders is difficulty in opening up to others. It is often misconstrued as a weakness,” Alvarez said. “That’s why it is really important for me to be open about my disorder, in the hope of raising awareness that it takes courage to ask for help.”
Alvarez said having the opportunity to work with D’Onofrio and Sher has been invaluable on his personal journey through recovery.
“I have learned many ways to cope with my disorder, relaxing techniques, and techniques for recognizing and controlling my emotions,” Alvarez said. “Being able to reach out and provide council to fellow soldiers is therapeutic as well.
Through counseling, group exercises, and round the clock availability, Sher said he and D’Onofrio are dedicated to making sure these men and women get the attention and care they need to return to society.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Sher said.
Heroes Walk Among Us
Elemental Health and Wellness Center