By Dorothy Meindok
The Post Newspaper Veterans Consultant
It’s not about blame or shame, it’s about wellness, self-care and expressing love.
This week I wanted to share with the veteran community a resource at Veteran Health Administration that I just participated in personally that has made a great positive impact on my well being, touching on all the different traumas I’ve experienced as a veteran both in the service and residually after leaving the service. That program is the RISE program. It is a program that helps empower a person that has dealt with abuse, reminding one and helping to evaluate personal self- worth in the many equations of a veteran’s life post traumatic events.
The RISE program is recovery-based and trauma-informed. It is an intensive treatment approach for Veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD, mood or anxiety disorder, and/or substance abuse/dependence. The weekly meetings are usually an hour long and can be conducted virtually for about 10 weeks.
The RISE program is delivered under the Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)/Domestic Violence (DV) department of VA Medical Centers. Intimate partner violence is highly prevalent within our veteran community, mostly due to the high incidence of mental trauma as well as residuals of physical disabilities and the uncontrolled pain associated with those types of service connected disabilities. Self-medicating practices or isolation and avoidance of social structures and supports often add to the difficulties surrounding the complex issues of abuse. Please note, that often the intention of the abuser is not at the forefront but the abuse surfaces nonetheless affecting our veterans and their families greatly; many times the stress of living with these disabilities and medical conditions also leave the veteran open to being abused as well. Veterans are not always the aggressors, sometimes it’s the tired family member, partner or wife that inadvertently becomes the aggressor without consciously knowing, just a residual of living a very stressful and difficult life as the partner of a veteran that is suffering.
According to experts at VA intimate partner violence is when a current or former intimate partner (like a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse) stalks, harms, or threatens to harm their partner. Sometimes that is expressed blatantly in threats such as “if you leave me, I’ll kill myself” and/or in other actions such as financial abuses designed to prevent a person from surviving outside of the afflicted relationship. What I’ve noticed is that no matter the circumstances, a common denominator is a person that has lost hope and struggles to feel or accept love and care because of previous and past trust breaches where oftentimes in the veteran community that relates back in some way to unresolved, undiagnosed and/or untreated military traumas, whether or not the person victimized is the veteran or not.
I decided to start the program myself in an effort to assure some of the veterans and spouses, dealing with these issues, that the program was legit. I had heard that it was probably “more of the same” in that it was a regular domestic violence program designed to “point the finger at the veteran, make everything their fault and seek to commit them, keep them drugged up/nonfunctional or remove them from handling their own finances”.
I decided, since I may have dealt with some of this myself in my lifetime, I would go and find out for myself.
Meeting Freda, my counselor, was refreshing in many ways but mostly in that she was caring, open minded, well educated and also had the street smarts or life experiences to understand the complex issues we spoke of.
I learned a lot about myself and domestic violence. I learned that
intimate partner violence can be emotional, physical, or sexual. It can also lead to short-term and long-term health problems, and a wide range of mental health issues.
I learned about things that she’d light on things I had seen in my practice such as civilian persons that are sexually trafficked with assignments to prey upon our most vulnerable and disabled veterans of all ages- adding another layer to abuse.
I also learned that the goal of the program was safety, awareness and self-empowerment. It reminds a person of options available to reach those very goals.
I have successfully completed the program as of this week and I can state that I learned a lot and it made a positive impact on my life where my friends, family and colleagues have seen a positive difference in me. Most importantly, I see and feel a difference being able to let go of some of the misunderstood pain I’ve held on to, some from over decades ago and some from just a few years ago. The lessons learned I found were cross-applicable where I could use those lessons in other types of relationships as well, even professionally.
I highly encourage any veteran or spouse dealing with abusive behaviors in their lives to know- you aren’t alone- you matter and there is hope and help available.
It’s not about blame or punishment;
It’s about expressions of love and kindness that begins with self and putting your own oxygen mask on first. It’s about a journey to wellness.
To reach someone at Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in the Texas Medical Center call 713-791-1414 and Press ZERO- ask the operator to connect you to the Intimate Partner Violence Unit or visit online at: https://www.va.gov/houston-health-care/ to get an appointment.
If you aren’t in the Houston area, you can reach out to your local VA Medical Center in the same exact way- just ask for the Intimate Partner Violence Unit and ask them about the RISE program and any other available resources that might fit for you.
Be well! Thanks for your time and have a safe, beautiful Labor Day! Dorothy Meindok is The Post Newspaper’s Veterans Consultant. Ms. Meindok served her nation in the United States Navy and is currently a practicing lawyer advocating for our nation’s veterans. Her column appears on Sundays.