Founded in 2013, GratitudeAmerica is on a mission to help Post-9/11 Veterans. GratitudeAmerica provides critical support for service members, Veterans, and their families and conducts meaningful restorative retreats to assist participants affected by deployment exposures such as combat related stress and traumatic brain injury.
Over the past seven years, more than 1,500 Vets and supporters have participated in 50 retreats. GratitudeAmerica’s model is unique – and is making an impact. Traditional interventions for Veterans include medication, talk therapy, and exposure therapy. These interventions can be effective, although they encourage Vets to focus on and return to life before the trauma.
GratitudeAmerica’s programs lead Vets beyond their trauma, which they come to embrace as part of their story, not as the experience that defines their life going forward. GratitudeAmerica’s model relies on four core pillars: recreation, reconnection, restoration, and relaxation. Several key components are emphasized to ensure long-term healing for both the Veteran and their support person, including encouraging peer support —“soldiers saving soldiers” —and treating the Veteran, family, and primary social support as a single unit. GratitudeAmerica uses methods that are supported by extensive research and centers its retreats on post-traumatic growth, emphasizing supportive therapeutic interventions, not “therapy”, and encouraging help-seeking behaviors.
Statistically, Post-9/11 Vets are about twice as likely as their Pre-9/11 counterparts to have served in a combat zone. Consequently, they are more likely to suffer mental, emotional, and physical scars. 42% of Post-9/11 Veterans (compared with only 17% of Pre-9/11 Veterans) say deployment negatively impacted their mental health. Many Post-9/11 Vets survived war in a distant land—only to return home to fight an internal battle with their trauma and mental health. Nearly 20 Veterans die by suicide every day in the U.S.—or about 500 a month, 6,000+ every year.
GratitudeAmerica’s Military Support Retreats are a supportive environment in which Vets connect with their peers, gain critical coping skills, and interact with licensed counselors to begin healing. These retreats allow Veterans and their support person an opportunity to build up skills in themselves while also engaging with others who may come from different backgrounds, but have the key similarity of being a Post 9/11 Vet. Retreat activities include yoga, meditation, and nature-based recreation such as kayaking, ropes courses, and dolphin or equine interactions. Working with horses has been especially popular with retreat participants. Horses are an effective therapy because they sense a Veteran's pain, anxiety, and fears and they react to that Vet in such a way that calms him or her in the moment. Both horses and Veterans tend to be hypervigilant to their surroundings and potential threats, so horses are a common and effective therapy for Veterans striving to grow beyond their trauma.
As the pandemic unfolded, GratitudeAmerica faced two obstacles, both of which are necessary for retreats, neither of which is necessarily encouraged during the pandemic: travel and convening people in the same space. As a result, GratitudeAmerica suspended retreats in March and explored a virtual alternative, but determined it unfeasible. The ‘secret sauce’ is bringing Vets and their support people together in one place — the human element is really what heals people when they are anxious and depressed.
Founded in 2013, GratitudeAmerica is on a mission to help Post-9/11 Veterans. GratitudeAmerica provides critical support for service members, Veterans, and their families and conducts meaningful restorative retreats to assist…