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Helping Veterans Get Back to Their Lives

Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative helps clients reintegrate into the community.

It’s something most of us take for granted – the ability to walk into a restaurant, interact with a cashier, place an order and maneuver around a crowded environment to find a seat.

But for people recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ordering a sandwich in a crowded restaurant can be a daunting task.

That’s where community reintegration efforts come in. In Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative, recreational therapist Laura Humphrey, MS, LRT/CTRS, addresses these issues.

Humphrey does everything from taking small groups out to breakfast so they can get comfortable in a restaurant setting to taking large groups to a bowling alley to practice dealing with noise and crowds. Group activities also have included golfing at a local park, learning to frame photos at a framing store, visiting a glass-blowing studio, swimming sessions at the Georgia Aquarium and touring museums. She also often works with clients individually who want to meet a goal of learning or relearning an activity, such as riding a bike. By attending outings in a Shepherd Center setting, clients have the opportunity to practice the skills they are learning in SHARE, so they feel more comfortable when they return home.

“We are trying to create new and old leisure experiences or social opportunities where they can practice the skills they are learning in therapy,” Humphrey says. “Most clients in the SHARE program have been coping with their brain injury or PTSD by isolating themselves. Isolation just increases the symptoms.”

SHARE clients are dealing with the effects of a brain injury and PTSD, while they are also having to make the transition from military to civilian life, Humphrey notes. That makes reintegrating into the community even more important – and sometimes more difficult.

James Smith, a former U.S. Army infantryman who is a SHARE client for the second time, served in Iraq and sustained a brain injury when he drove his vehicle over an improvised explosive device (IED). Aside from physical symptoms, James had trouble interacting with people. He began reintegration efforts with a SHARE outing to a CVS pharmacy store.

“It made me a little nervous, being out in public again,” James says.

After that trip, he slowly worked up to bigger outings, like going to a restaurant, and then to a bowling alley.

“The outings push you outside your comfort zone, but you’re still in a safe environment,” James explains. “Once you realize you can do it, it makes it easier when you go home.”

Humphrey looks at everything needed to make an event a success, including any adaptive equipment, compensatory strategies and coping skills. After clients go on an outing or complete an activity, they sit down and discuss what went well, where there were challenges and what could be done to improve the activity.

“The number one goal is to teach them independence and give them the skills to cope outside of SHARE,” she says. “We expose them to new or old interests, and get them used to being out in the community again. It’s very rewarding when you see them realize they can do these things on their own.”

For more information about the SHARE Military Initiative, click here

Written by Sara Baxter
Photos by Louie Favorite

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.