I was saddened to learn of the closure of The Pathway Home. There were so many success stories resulting from that program.
Pathway was established in 2008 to provide comprehensive treatment for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other post-combat mental health challenges.
Fred Gusman and a remarkable team helped combat veterans and even active duty members work their way through the transition from war-ravaged countries to a peacetime civilian life in Small Town America.
The Pathway Home had deep ties to the community, connecting with many of the local businesses in Yountville, service organizations and education facilities. The participants joined in daily therapy, road trips and individual and group counseling.
Each of the members began with a 90- to 180-day commitment, living in a dormitory environment. They began as individuals, mostly in deeply ingrained shells, suffering from rage, restlessness, depression, nightmares and an emotional numbness. Many were seeking relief from their invisible but very real pain through drugs and alcohol.
My team was there every month helping individuals with VA claims and other resources and benefits. We saw them slowly open up, first to each other and then to others. They started to smile occasionally, first only with their mouths and eventually with their eyes as well.
By the end of their stay, they were talking about the future, something that was not in their minds at the beginning of the program.
They were not cured. There is no cure. But most came to understand what was wrong, and learned coping mechanisms. They learned about triggers – things that could set off bad reactions. They learned that the demons that hounded their heels could be tamed.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is not a new condition. Each clash of arms throughout history has spawned its own array of psychological injuries, with striking similarities to those haunting thousands of combatants from the current wars.
Alexander the Great spent the last months of his life drinking heavily and had become pathologically suspicious and easily alarmed. In our country’s Revolutionary War, soldiers with symptoms of PTSD were thought to suffer from “nostalgia” or were branded as cowards.
During the Civil War, people spoke of the curse of “Soldier’s Heart” when combatants became incapacitated with no visible wounds. “Shell Shock” was the catch phrase during the first World War, and in World War II people called it “Battle Fatigue.”
Finally in 1980, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) labeled it an accepted psychiatric diagnosis.
Since then, the number of resources for veterans with PTSD has grown. Community-based veterans centers began to open at the end of the Vietnam War, staffed mostly by combat veterans, with the motto “Vets Helping Vets.” The program was formally recognized by Congress in 1979, and today funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA offers PTSD counseling for all veterans regardless of the character of discharge. Napa County offers free mental health services.
However, we have now lost a critical, immensely successful resource for veterans suffering with PTSD and other combat-related mental disorders.
All those who worked so hard and cared so much for those being treated at The Pathway Home deserve our thanks. We are especially grateful and will forever remember the three brave women who lost their lives earlier this year: Christine Loeber, Dr. Jennifer Gray Golick and Dr. Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba.
I encourage veterans and their families to learn more about PTSD. The Napa County Veterans Service Office hosts Vet Connect from 9 a.m. to noon on the second Thursday of every month. The North Bay Vet Center is a regular participant along with many other agencies that have resources and benefits for veterans. The program is free, and even offers free coffee and doughnuts thanks to Vietnam Vets of America.
We also conduct a monthly orientation to veterans benefits on the second Tuesday of each month at 1 p.m.