Grantee Spotlight - FOCUS Marines

May 26, 2016

All soldiers come back from combat with wounds, whether visible or invisible, says Ted Kretschmar of FOCUS Marines. In over six years and twenty classes, FOCUS works primarily in the realm of invisible wounds, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Survivor guilt, moral injury etc. These burdens and injuries often change these individuals and hold them back, causing rifts in families, self-isolation, anger and difficulty maintaining employment. Post-9/11 veterans are not quantified at local levels and Veterans Affairs can be difficult to access. Scarce resources or mismatched medications, often in combination with alcohol, lead to a high rate of suicide among those who have returned home. FOCUS exists to intervene in the lives of these men and women, offering hope and healing through their week-long classes. Various reporting and support systems in the Marine and Veteran community refer these returned soldiers to FOCUS for help. While many come dragging their feet, they leave with new hope and a plan. This is not to say it's a "straight line up," as Kretschmar says, but men and women move forward in their journey of healing.

The week-long classes are designed specifically to foster camaraderie, sharing and next step planning for those attending. While many of these men and women do not know each other upon arriving, they bond quickly over their experience, the uniform. "It's part of the therapy," Kretschmar points out. In the first few days there are health and mental health assessments, surveys of interests and experiences, in order to better work on career and health plans later in the week, as well as required classes. Evenings contain graduate testimonies or motivational speakers. On Wednesday, a time is made available for voluntary sharing. Approximately 75% of attendees share and many have called it an almost spiritual experience. From Thursday onward much of the time is dedicated toward established goals—specifically around broken relationships, personal improvement, volunteering and network building. There are also optional evening meetings, including AA, bible studies and financial literacy classes. The final night is a celebration that includes graduation, gifts and a party complete with karaoke.

The program does not end here. Official evaluation continues at three-, six- and 12-month intervals, allowing FOCUS to track continued progress. Of the participants, 80% will be more self-aware and mend family and relational ties, and 75% will still be making progress towards their goals a year after they completed the class.

The connections made during the week are also long-lasting. Throughout the week, participants have eaten meals and talked with other volunteers and program graduates. The table leaders keep in touch with their group, checking in and remaining available to talk, and helping with any legal or financial needs. Although this program has been running for over six years, the initial class still receives phone calls from FOCUS. While wounds persist and healing is a process, many of those who have gone through FOCUS say it has changed their lives and saved them from a different fate. Families have been mended, people are back in school and fewer are using alcohol and drugs to numb pain. Support and hope offer a very promising future to these men and women through FOCUS Marines.

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