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Government Veterans Focus: Recovery Resource Council finding niche with veterans service

Veterans Focus: Recovery Resource Council finding niche with veterans service

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

Recovery Resource Council Veterans Services

recoverycouncil.org/veteran-services

Recovery Resource Council Veteran Program funding partners

United Way

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Employees’ Reaching Out

Carry the Load

Mercury 1

Meadows Foundation

In 2013, Recovery Resource Council started on a journey to serve veterans and their families who needed help coping with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and addiction.

The organization wasn’t sure what it would find, but in the five years since the program began, it continues to grow, proving that the need for services for veterans in the area is strong, said Eric Niedermayer, CEO of the 61-year-old Fort Worth-based nonprofit organization that provides case management and behavioral health services for people with substance abuse and mental health issues.

“We started serving our first veteran in August of 2013 with some funding from Lockheed Martin [Aeronautics Employees’ Reaching Out fund] and United Way,” he said. “It was like a combination of about $125,000 and it paid for us to have a therapist and a peer coordinator person.”

The organization had sent in an application to United Way. Within 45 days, the United Way came back suggested contacting Lockheed Martin organization.

“And it was like, ‘OK, we don’t know if we’re going to get the United Way money we applied for, but we’ll go ahead and apply for Lockheed Martin at the same time and maybe we’ll get one of them.’ What happened is that we ended up getting both of them, which gave us, really, enough for a nice start of the program,” he said.

Since then the program has grown, with a budget this year of close to $1 million, The budget for next year will likely be about $1.5 million, Niedermayer said.

The program targets veteran family needs ranging from coping to teaching effective decision-making, parenting and communication skills. Services in this program are provided at no cost to the family or the veteran.

That growth has been aided by the fact that the organization has carefully evaluated and measured the effectiveness of its veterans’ program.

Dr. Vicki A. Nejtek, an associate professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, delivered a report on the program in February of this year.

The report showed that, for instance, depression symptoms in veterans decreased 49 percent in those receiving 18 weeks of therapy, 34 percent for those who went through 12 weeks of therapy and 28 percent for those going through 6 weeks of therapy.

“So many veterans programs end up measuring outputs instead of outcomes, asking ‘how many veterans did you see,’ rather than what actually happened to them when you saw them,” said Niedermayer.

“Having Dr. Nejtek’s numbers, we’re able to measure anxiety, depression and quality of life. We’re able to actually show that the veteran gets better while they stay [with the program].”

Texas is home to almost 2 million veterans, just behind California as the state with the highest veteran population, and many of those live in North Texas, the area served by the Recovery Resource Council.

Since August 2013, specialized therapy for children and youth has been offered with the program with a non-directive play therapy room. This year, sand tray therapy was added to the menu of service available for children and youth.

Niedermayer admitted he was worried at the beginning of the program, not about its effectiveness, but about attracting veterans to the program.

“That’s another struggle that a lot of veterans programs sometimes have is they’re trying to fill the need, but how to find the veteran, how to get them engaged, get them to show up.

“I was a little bit worried at the beginning of this program about even having a program for veterans because I’d seen, even at that time, in August 2013, a lot of the places opened up to serve veterans and they were having trouble getting anybody to come in.”

The initial two staff members did a lot of outreach.

“They were going to any kind of meeting there was – in the community – that was about veterans, going to any site that served veterans. Anything they could do to do outreach to let people know that we were here.”

The council began building a relationship with the Veterans Administration. That took time.

“Today, I would tell you, our relationship with the VA is very, very strong and about 75 percent, 80 percent of everybody we see comes from the VA and we end up filling a need that the VA has,” said Niedermayer.

There were other changes that took place in the program.

“We actually thought we could do groups when we first opened up, that we were actually going to work with groups of women. That was our goal,” he said.

But their potential clients said no.

“There was no literature at the time that said they wouldn’t do that. I mean women in group settings is generally supposed to be a very good idea for women,” he said.

“But a lot of the people that we see are still connected to the military in one way or another. And the women said there was no way they’re coming into a group with other military women and talking about the sexual abuse they had or other kinds of abuse that went on because they didn’t want it to get back to the command staff. They didn’t trust each other to be able to come talk about it. So, they said, ‘if that’s all you’re going to offer us, we’re not going to come.’ ”

The United Way, Niedermayer noted, let the Recovery Resource Council revamp the program and build an individual model as opposed to a group setting model, even though it meant serving fewer people overall.

“The United Way let us rewrite our application to allow us to move it all to individuals, which means we had to lower our numbers at the time,” he said.

Still, the program grew, adding its own building in a house across the street from the Recovery Resource Council building on Sylvania Avenue.

The Enduring Families Veterans Counseling Center opened in April 2016. The six-room center is designed to facilitate individual counseling, marriage counseling, family therapy, play therapy, group counseling, and referrals. Because of demand in the Denton area, one of the veterans program’s five counselors is located there.

“That caseload is totally full because there is a VA facility in Denton and they are referring to us now,” said Niedermayer.

The Recovery Resource Council is advertising for both a counselor and a peer navigator position as well, but Niedermayer expects they will be looking for more.

One of those substance abuse and veterans counselors is Air Force veteran Angel Ayala, a survivor of the Khobar Towers bombing in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. Twenty people were killed and nearly 500 wounded in the car bomb attack by Hezbollah Al-Hejaz.

“I did not feel like a hero when they awarded me the Purple Heart,” he said, speaking to the Recovery Resource Council’s Stars on Recovery fundraiser in 2017.

After his discharge, Ayala descended into alcohol and drugs, contemplating suicide until he reached out for help.

“[Veterans] join the military just as they are entering adulthood and they don’t really know any other way of life,” he said.

“They come back different people. Many are medically discharged for mental health problems they didn’t have when they joined,” he said.

Ayala eventually earned degrees from Tarrant County College and Tarleton State University and is now working with veterans like himself.

“I sit across from men and women who, without help, could become one of the 22 veterans a day who commit suicide. This is a very real and common occurrence in our country,” he said.

The Veteran Program organization is expanding physically with an addition to the Enduring Families Veterans Counseling Center and it is also expanding virtually.

The organization has just received equipment to do telemental health visit training, allowing the staff to work with clients remotely.

Niedermayer, a veteran himself of the Texas Air Force and the Texas Air National Guard, said he is very proud of the program and its success.

“It’s real important to me that we do a great job. Our reputation in the community is really high. We actually had a foundation call us on the phone and offer us money, which never happens,” he said.

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