Non-profit helps veterans with PTSD, addiction using one-of-a-kind program

SHREWSBURY, Mass. — A new program is helping veterans struggling with substance abuse find renewed hope.

"This is something I still battle.  This is not gone, it's not going away. Places like this they help me” said Dan, a Marine veteran.

It wasn't long ago that Dan was homeless on the streets of Worcester.  After being honorably discharged, he struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. Something he ascribes to his diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

"You lose kind of self-control, self-esteem. I lost, self-pride, all this stuff went down the drain." Dan said. "You get out and it stays with you."

He's now in recovery at this treatment center in Shrewsbury, run by the non-profit Veterans Inc.

"Without places like this, I don't know where I'd be. I'd either be dead or in jail. There's no doubt about that," said Dan.

This private in-patient treatment center is the first in the country designed specifically for veterans that have substance abuse disorders. It has 32 inpatient beds and there's a waiting list to get in.  Veterans Inc. also runs a day treatment program in Shrewsbury facilty.

"What we're trying to do is create a treatment center that is unlike any other," said Denis Leary, executive director of Veterans Inc.

Leary said these former military members have been through treatment before and hopefully this is last time.  The funding for the program comes from three sources: Veterans Inc. the VA, and the patients in the treatment program.

Leary said they use a sliding scale that depends on income. At most, the veteran’s will pay $200 a month, but if they have no income it costs them nothing.

"We want to get people moving again, talking again, and in some ways engaging in a way they've never engaged before," said Leary.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 10 percent of men and women returning from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan have problems with addiction and one-third of those also have PTSD.

"There is such a huge amount of PTSD among the veterans today, but you can see the path with pain medication being overprescribed, with the availability and affordability of heroin and with this awful experience that you've had as a military member, it's almost a perfect formula for addiction" said Leary

PTSD makes it uniquely difficult to treat veterans, Leary said, because most drug councilors can't understand the levels of psychological trauma they've been through.

Dan recalls a particularly brutal encounter that still haunts him. It was in Liberia almost 20 years ago protecting the U.S Embassy.

"You've got a lot of children shooting each other.  They'd be laying in the street and wild dogs would rip them apart. It would stay with you," Dan said.

There's no manual on how to cope with the horrors of war.  For years, Dan suffered from flashbacks and nightmares, to the point he didn't feel comfortable in his own skin.

“I didn't know about the VA.  I didn't know about the Vet's Inc. shelter," said Dan.

It was the shelter that led Dan here and it's the program that's helping him find balance and serenity.

"You've got to feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable," he said.