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Newly Renovated PTSD Program At VA Puget Sound American Lake

Patricia Murphy

Treating Veterans experiencing combat–related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is difficult. For some vets just getting in the car to drive to a mental–health appointment can be a source of extreme anxiety. VA Puget Sound American Lake Division in Lakewood has a residential rehabilitation program. It offers the freedom of outpatient care and recently was given a 7–million–dollar renovation. KUOW's Patricia Murphy, has the story.


A sprawling campus of stucco and terra cotta buildings line the shores of American Lake. Mount Rainer towers in the background. Richard Pollard is the director of community and residential care services here. He says the beauty of this place creates an exceptional therapeutic environment.

Pollard: "The golf course, gymnasium, the fishing dock. Just the grounds are really very, very very beautiful and then this provides — with the remodel provides kind of the space to live in that reflects that same kind of serenity."

Inside, a recently completed renovation has brightened the residential quarters. There are quiet rooms, multimedia rooms, a kitchen and a pool table. The Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Program provides specialty care for men and women veterans with PTSD, substance abuse, and sexual trauma. It also helps homeless veterans looking to rejoin the workforce.

Patients in the program stay here for five weeks. They live on site. They spend about three hours a day in group and individual therapy.

More than half of the residents are young men and women from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many are busy with families and children. So Pollard says the VA is working on condensing the program in to a shorter time frame.

Pollard: "Many of our younger veterans are really in a position where they really can't afford to take say even five weeks out of a very busy and complicated life. But they can take two or three weeks out to deal with an issue in an acute way and then get back to school, their families, their job."

Pollard says the plan is to require longer more intensive therapy sessions each day and shorten the program to three weeks. A shorter program length would also turn over more beds. Right now, there's a 30–day waitlist.

As we talk, F–16 fighter jets soar overhead. They're practicing for an upcoming air show. The American Lake facility is very close to Joint Base Lewis–McChord.

To many, these are the sounds of war.

Pollard says that can be a problem for some residents. But it can also be an important therapeutic teaching tool.

Pollard: "It is a reality of life. We also have helicopters fly over. We are also close enough to the fort that you can hear the artillery range at times. So again this provides a real–life experience with the opportunity to be safe and to have staff to kind of process this with — as well as other residents. I think it's important to emphasize this is a therapeutic community and the other residents provide remarkable support."

Pollard says it's important for vets with PTSD to realize that having symptoms doesn't mean that your life is over.

The key, he says, is developing strategies to deal with the symptoms so your life can continue.

I'm Patricia Murphy, KUOW News.

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