Soldier’s Heart: Veteran-Designed Support for First Responders

Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) is a serious problem faced by many combat veterans and first responders. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in the United States, approximately 20 veterans commit suicide each day. And in Alaska, an estimated 15,000 veterans and first responders have untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). To help deal with this problem, Southcentral Foundation has implemented the Soldier’s Heart program. Soldier’s Heart is a training and education program (not a medical or diagnostic program) developed by veterans for first responders, combat veterans, and law enforcement to help them understand and address the effects of PTS and provide information, tools, and methods to help cope with symptoms.

The program includes a six-day training, with two of the days being team building activities, weekly Learning Circles (a form of group therapy based on Alaska Native values of sharing story and listening to others share theirs), annual alumni gatherings, and continued care with a Master-level therapist available to all veterans, law enforcement, and first responders who have experienced service-related trauma and/or are dealing with PTS. The six-day training is offered three times per year, and features personal stories shared by presenters, as well as exercises for both Learning Circles and large groups. Curriculum topics include trauma triggers, survival strategies, survival guilt, the impact of trauma on families, and many others. Group leaders in the training are mostly volunteers, past participants, veterans, and first responders.

After attending the training, participants reported positive changes in outlook and emotional health, feelings of better understanding their trauma, and improved ability to relate to their friends and families. SCF has opened training applications to all combat veterans, all first responders and law enforcement, as well as those who have served in a first responder capacity in an Alaska village.

For more information about Soldier’s Heart, or other aspects of SCF’s care for veterans and first responders, contact the SCF Learning Institute today!