Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Group aims to set national standards for treatment of veterans

Higher Ground forms alliance with veterans recreation organizations

Express Staff Writer

Three attendees at a summit meeting of veterans’ recreation groups that met last week at the Valley Club near Hailey are, from left, Bert Gillett, Higher Ground veterans outreach coordinator, Special Forces Master Sgt. Mike Chesne, and Higher Ground board member Bill Potter. Photo by David N. Seelig

Higher Ground, a nonprofit veterans recreation program developed by locally based Sun Valley Adaptive Sports, met with representatives from eight other related organizations at the Valley Club north of Hailey last week to begin setting national standards for working with U.S. military veterans and their families. 

The organizations have joined to form an alliance that could set standards for a growing industry. 

Higher Ground board member and Vietnam war veteran Bill Potter helped sponsor the meeting, along with the Chichester duPont Foundation, in order to bring accreditation standards to what he said is a burgeoning industry of veterans’ therapeutic recreation companies in the United States.

The four-day workshop was attended by eight organizations similar to Higher Ground, as well as Lt. Col. Tony Forbes, regional director of the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Potter said in an interview that about 5,000 veteran recreation organizations exist in the country, and many could benefit from having established program criteria.

“Many of the groups out there have big hearts, but bad practices, or no practices at all,” he said.

Potter, who also represents Healing Waters, a group that teaches veterans to fly fish, said veterans recreation groups can complement, or even replace, established military medical programs aimed at healing soldiers traumatized by war. 

Potter said the government has been slow to react to the need for successful treatment of post-traumatic-stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury in returning veterans.

He said the Veterans Administration has provided “aggressive” pharmaceutical treatments for returning veterans, but that this has not been successful in stemming the tide of suicides in the military.

“There are more vets dying by suicide today than there are dying in the military theater,” Potter said. 

Retired Special Forces Master Sgt. Mike Chesne, who has participated in Higher Ground programs since 2009 and who attended the workshop last week, said Higher Ground marked a turning point for him, getting him involved with other veterans and participating in healthy social and physical activities.

Chesne said that after suffering numerous injuries during nine deployments in Iraq, he followed the U.S. military’s official program for medical retirement.

“It turned me into an overmedicated couch potato,” he said.

Potter said attendees will review information and recommendations gathered at the workshop in an effort to develop accreditation standards that can be used around the country.

“We hope to develop more public private partnerships,” he said. 

Tony Evans:

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