PTSD recovery program on Oahu helps service members and vets alike cope with trauma

It’s one way the VA is trying to address record-high suicide rates.
Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 5:53 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 7, 2022 at 6:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Working in the military comes with high stress and traumatic situations ― and some have trouble coping.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Healthcare System offers a nine-week residency program to treat active duty military members and veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s one way the VA is trying to address record-high suicide rates.

Department of Defense data show suicide rates are rising at an alarming pace. About 22 veterans kill themselves each day while suicides by active-duty military members are at an all-time high.

A recent study found at least four times as many military members die by suicide than in combat.

“I have friends who have PTSD from the islands, who have taken their lives, who are on medication, who are no longer the same,” said Rodney Retuyan, who serves in the Guam Army National Guard.

He’s been deployed four times.

His last tour in Afghanistan took a toll on his mental health and his relationships when he returned home.

“Especially from the islands, your culture, your value, how your family sees you how your whole village, just your whole island sees you,” Retuyan said. “Men are not weak. Men are the warriors. The one provide for the family, they will go out nothing can hurt them. So me finding the courage is a big, big, big deal.”

After encouragement from his wife, Retuyan put his pride aside, left home and joined the VA’s inpatient program for two months. He completed it on July 1.

“Kind of rough. I’ve never stayed indoors that long being an island boy,” he said,

Retuyan’s cohort included veterans from the Vietnam War and World War II ― men still grappling with their inner demons years after they served.

“Talking about it really brought things to perspective as like, oh okay, so it’s not my fault,” he said.

Dr. Donald Banik, of the VA residential recovery program, said veterans and active duty military members often experience guilt and shame around experiencing mental health trauma or needing help.

More than 1,000 patients have been treated in the program; a few had to come back.

But Banik doesn’t consider that a failure. Rather, it’s part of the healing process.

“When they come back from the trauma, it’s more difficult to compartmentalize, as they did, to successfully make it through their mission, or whatever they were asked to do,” he said.

Veteran Jake Mackey has been homeless, struggled with substance abuse and tried to commit suicide.

He says the program saved his life.

“The trauma is still there. But it’s not. It’s not a big scary boogeyman like it was,” he said. “Not avoid it, but to learn to live with it instead of the way that I was coping with it.”

For information on the VA’s PTSD Residential Recovery Program, call (808) 433-0249 or visit ptsd.va.gov.

For the Suicide Prevention Hotline, call (800) 433-0249. Beginning July 16, 2022, call 9-8-8.

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