Utah Program Helping Veterans Win War Against PTSD

Aug 17, 2020, 8:21 PM | Updated: 8:26 pm

PARK CITY, Utah – An estimated 800,000 American troops struggle with PTSD after deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq over the last two decades, and a Utah program called Heroes Haven is working to help those veterans.

The impacts of PTSD can also be heightened during the pandemic for some soldiers.

“The honor, that purpose and sense of accomplishment,” said Zach Howser, citing the most important aspects of his six years of service in the army.

The Provo native was in ROTC class in high school when the attacks on 9/11 stunned the country, and he decided that he had to serve.

Before long, he was a combat engineer, hunting and clearing roadside bombs in Iraq.

“We saw a lot of combat,” said Howser. “There was a lot of weapons exchanged. There was a lot of improvised explosive devices (IED) going off.”

His vehicle took several hits, and he did not feel adequately trained for the aftermath when the nightmares started.

“There’s that pride aspect where we don’t want to ask for that help,” said Howser. “We’re the ones who are supposed to be tough enough to go do that and deal with it.”

He contacted Heroes Haven to get help.

“My children deserve who I used to be,” he said.

This week, he was on a mission for healing with a dozen other Utah combat veterans at the National Ability Center in Park City. They’re soul-searching, doing therapy and learning psychological tools to take home.

Veterans participate in activities with Heroes Haven in Park City.

“We’re healing and learning to take responsibility for trauma that has happened in our lives,” said Frank DeVito, founder of Heroes Haven.

Trauma related to their lives at war, and at home.

DeVito said he takes a ceremonious approach, including a self-discovery walk at a labyrinth, where the veterans symbolically leave their combat demons behind.

“We bring back things that are not ready to be received by the people who sent us there,” DeVito said.

There is no initiation that shows troops how to handle that and deal with those issues back at home, he said.

DeVito’s group has developed initiations to help the troops cross a threshold in healing.

“We’re bringing them home with all that they brought home with them, so that they can assimilate it properly,” he said.

The therapy, meditation and group activities, like walking the labyrinth in Park City, are all part of breaking down the barriers to recovery. Ultimately, each of the soldiers has to do the self-discovery and internal work on their own.

“It’s helping a lot,” said Luda Siliga, a soldier with the Utah National Guard who did two tours of duty in Afghanistan. “When I came back from my first deployment, we didn’t have this. We had a behavioral health guy who said ‘Here’s my card. If you need help just call me.’”

Siliga is still a member of the Utah National Guard.

Three years ago, he said he was not willing to ask for help. Now, because he is honest with his family and himself, he is doing the work to get better.

“It is OK to ask for help,” he said. “It is OK to lean on other guys, and you’re not the only one. There are other guys who deal with the same situations.”

They are helping each other just as they did on the battlefield.

“You’re integrating greatness back into the community,” said DeVito. “They are going to help shepherd and lead children and men and women into the future.”

Reach out for help with PTSD at theheroeshaven.com.

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Utah Program Helping Veterans Win War Against PTSD