Easing Soldiers' Recovery

New approaches to helping our veterans heal

| July 5, 2007

In the wake of the Walter Reed scandal and countless headlines detailing the travails of veterans returning from Iraq, a few programs are taking innovative approaches to helping returning soldiers heal.

New Directions, a Los Angeles-based drug rehabilitation program for homeless veterans, has enlisted the help of some unconventional therapists -- parrots -- in an effort to aid the city's large veteran population. Dr. Lorin Lindner, an eco-psychologist and clinical director at New Directions, and a cast of helpers have created an avian sanctuary for rescued birds that functions as an occupational therapy site for veterans. Serenity Park, as the sanctuary has been aptly named, is a tranquil space where veterans tend to abandoned and abused parrots. Lindner tells the Los Angeles City Beat that she got the idea for the program during an outing with veterans to a similar parrot sanctuary. 'They developed a greater sense of empathy,' Lindner recalls of the veterans' reactions. 'The birds are similarly suffering from traumatic stress and that commonality helps them to heal -- both the veterans and the birds.' Matthew H. Simmons, a veteran and worker at Serenity Park, puts it this way: 'I like to say that working with birds is kind of like Prozac. You have to be gentle and calm, something that I've never been before.'

Addiction and homelessness aren't the only risks returning soldiers face. Navigating their way through the bureaucratic channels of colleges and universities can also be daunting, and often hampers their ability to take full advantage of their educational benefits. Fortunately a program specifically designed to help veterans overcome some of these obstacles will begin this fall at Cleveland State University. Called Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran, or SERV, the program will feature history classes that focus on countries where veterans have served, courses on biological warfare, and composing essays to help them sort through their traumatic war experiences.

The idea is to equip veterans with the information and tools they need to readjust. But, since the classes will be offered to veterans only, the program also aims to recreate the sense of camaraderie that many soldiers miss upon their return home. As John Schupp, SERV's creator, tells the Cleveland Scene, 'They all are gonna stick together, and they're all gonna succeed together.'

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