For veterans who may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to wartime trauma, their first step is to contact their local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Vet Center or outpatient center.
But if veterans require more care, they can voluntarily check in at inpatient centers such as the Bay Pines VA Medical Center here.
Bay Pines has a 14-bed residential program for veterans with war-caused PTSD.
Tony Taylor, program manager for the warzone PTSD program at Bay Pines, a Marine Corps and Vietnam War veteran who’s worked with the VA for more than 36 years and has PTSD himself.
“I’ve seen tremendous changes,” he said. “We now have comprehensive programs designed to help veterans who suffer from PTSD. It’s a cooperative partnership we’ve established at this hospital where we have teams working together to help the veterans. The primary care doctor does the physical exam. The psychiatrists understand what medications have been proven to be effective for helping veterans with PTSD. We have psychologists and social workers who are trained in providing evidence based care for veterans with PTSD which is throughout the entire VA system,” he continued. “You will get the finest care possible through the VA system if you seek care at a VA hospital.”
Taylor said, "the next step is for veterans to be referred to the voluntary inpatient centers like Bay Pines by local Vet Centers or VA hospitals so there’s a continuity of care, both before the veteran arrives and for follow-up care after the veteran leaves Bay Pines. There are approximately 20 programs like Bay Pines."
Rose Stauffer, a licensed clinical social worker who’s been with the VA for five years and with Bay Pines for six months. She’s been in her career field 16 years.
“We can help bring down the anxiety and provide hope. People do find a way to recover from PTSD in that they can live a life that is meaningful to them, but it’s hard work and it’s a big process. There’s stuff that works and we can help you find it.”
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Manuel “Al” Alcantara, who’d served as a combat medic for more than 21 years, recently graduated from Bay Pines -- his second inpatient PTSD program.
Alcantara served three tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and he said his PTSD symptoms started showing up after his second deployment from 2005 to 2006.
He said he was in denial, destructive and had suicidal ideations. Alcantara went through his first inpatient treatment and was full of hope, but he regressed after he retired, having lost some of his battle buddies. He said he started pulling away from his family and friends and got divorced.
“I felt out of control again and the tools that I used to apply were failing. I was always angry at every little thing,” Alcantara said. “So I ended up here.”
“I learned I need support,” he continued. “I can’t do it alone. I’ve isolated myself, withdrawn and just avoided people for the last three years, and that hasn’t worked at all. I’ve learned how to make new friends and open up a little bit. Having someone who can understand you, someone who can empathize with what you’ve been through just helped me a lot. I’m not alone. Knowing my peers are going through what I’m going through helped a lot.”
Alcantara found a lifelong friend in his peer, Marine Corps and Vietnam War veteran Jim Alderman. Alderman said he plans on teaching Alcantara how to cliff dive and other adventurous sports. Alderman said Bay Pines saved his life and he recommends it to other veterans.
Alderman was a force reconnaissance Marine who taught Navy SEALs ground and water survival. He also served as a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina, and taught close combat at the FBI Academy.
For 50 years, Alderman said he didn’t admit to himself that he had PTSD -- though he would wear a bulletproof vest and arm himself anytime he left his house. He was hesitant to go to Bay Pines for help but his wife, Pat, who he’s been married to since 1972, encouraged him to go.
Alderman said for years he thought, “I’m tougher than a bucket of nails. I am the best trained Marine the Marine Corps has ever had. I’ve been a drill instructor and a sniper. I’ve killed more people in more ways than you can shake a stick at. I can suck it up.”
“I guarantee you, there’s nobody tougher or more skeptical to do this than me and I would recommend anyone to just give it a shot,” he said. “It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to be easy. There’s going to be a lot of tears, a lot of heartaches, a lot of just hope and joy."
“And you need support,” Alderman continued. “You’re not going to do this by yourself. If you think you can figure it out by yourself, you’ll be just like you are for the next 10, 20, 30 years to your family, to your friends and you start getting isolated more and more. You’ll start disliking things you used to love to do. I sat in a chair for 15 years playing a video game. I really isolated myself to absolute oblivion. I had a 9 mm sitting on my stand, and I can’t tell you how many times I thought about using it. And then I joined the VA.”
Wiping tears from his eyes, Alderman added, “I have absolute heartfelt gratitude. I just can’t thank everybody in this place enough. I was kind of embarrassed to ask for help, especially with something going on in my head. I was stuck in time, back in 1967. I’m not expecting to get cured. There’s no way you’re going to cure this but they gave me tools to handle it. If you come here and have the same experience I do, you’ll leave here a better person. You’ll have a little hope and purpose, that’s all I was looking for.”
Alderman recently graduated from Bay Pines and he plans to reach out to other veterans.
DoD News Features
Ed Note: While this facility has been great for these veterans mentioned, and endeavors to do it’s best for our Vets. recent news shows there’s much room for improvement. In light of news that one vet. who passed away, was left in a shower stall for 9 hours.