Purpose Driven Rehab Offers a Different Kind of Recuperation
Monday, November 21, 2011
By Joseph Andrew Lee
Combat wounds can leave more than just physical scars. But for many career soldiers and Marines who are discharged medically, there can be deep psychological wounds that don’t have anything to do with post-traumatic stress (PTS) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). These scars come from a removal from the brotherhood they once enjoyed with their fellow servicemen and women.
Where they once had a “purpose” – to fight and protect the American way of life – they are now left with the mundane daily routine of physical rehab and veterans groups. Many times, even when physically capable of returning to work and regaining a purpose, some veterans find themselves dependent on the Veterans Affairs disability ratings to pay for medication and/or prostheses or burn care and thus become stuck at home, day in and day out, sometimes for years at a time, unable to transition into a new civilian career. Other times, veterans ostracize themselves because they are uncomfortable with civilians and would rather not deal with the stress of transitioning back into society.
Purpose Driven Rehab (PDR) is a new military support initiative in which wounded, medically retired veterans travel in a high-tech, amped-up gaming trailer to major sporting events across the country. As part of Pro vs. GI Joe, a non-profit organization that facilitates live, online video gaming competitions between professional athletes and American troops overseas, the wounded warriors find purpose through PDR by helping connect fellow troops to their families at Pro vs. GI Joe events.
“We’re not trying to recreate the military,” said PDR co-founder Greg Zinone. “Most of these guys wouldn’t want that anyways. What we’re doing is hanging out with them, spending time with them and creating real friendships amongst veterans and getting these guys off their couch. A lot of times all these guys need is someone to hang out with while doing something meaningful. That’s what we try and provide for them.”
The experience reunites wounded warriors with their fellow troops and at the same time introduces them to professional athletes at high-profile sporting events around the country. For troops who do experience crowd anxiety as a symptom of post-traumatic stress, the benign characteristics of sports fans combined with the presence of other veterans seems to reduce the level of anxiety.
“It’s different,” said Marine Cpl. Jeremy Stenger (Ret.). “It’s not like these are random people with different and unknown motives and intentions. When I’m in a crowd of random people at, say, a shopping mall, my attention levels – I call it my ‘Spidey senses’ – are off the charts. It causes a lot of anxiety because I can’t associate a common cause or goal amongst the group. Being around NFL fans is a different experience. It’s almost like I’m around Marines again, because I get the sense that the group is on my side – on my team – and that really helps me relax.”
The PDR gaming trailer travels across the country with these wounded warriors on board. It’s fully loaded with 11 high definition televisions, gaming consoles, custom gaming chairs, satellite internet, cable television and is even stocked with the newest video games such as Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. When the trailer arrives at its destination, tailgating events gather a large crowd with tournaments, contests, giveaways and even online connections with service members located in USO centers in the combat zone.
This weekend, the PDR trailer was at Lambeau Field for the Green Bay Packers game, where fans and staff alike had no trouble making friends with the wounded warriors on board. Stenger, a Wisconsin native, brought his girlfriend along to share in his experience. Little did she know she would leave the stadium engaged to be married.
“That’s one of the other things this program does,” said program director Joe Oneto. “It helps create positive experiences and opens doors for these guys who absolutely deserve them to be opened. For a Green Bay Packers fan like Jeremy, having the chance to propose to his girlfriend on the 50-yard line of Lambeau Field was a dream come true for both of them. We love to see these guys make lifelong memories like that. We’ll all remember the moment he dropped to one knee in the freezing cold for the rest of our lives, and I’m sure his soon-to-be bride will too.”
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Photo caption: Brenda Gauerke says hello to her husband, Air Force Master Sgt. Peter Gauerke, with their daughters Emma (left) and Ella at the Pro vs GI Joe event at Lambeau Field on Nov. 19. Master Sgt. Gauerke was at USO Qatar. (Credit: Joseph A. Lee / USO)
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