HOLIDAY — Everything about Veterans Alternative is deceptively simple – from the house on Arcadia Road where it is located to the waving of the hand which triggers the therapy that is being proven as one of the most successful in helping veterans with their mental anxieties.
The therapy is called accelerated resolution therapy and works directly to reprogram the way in which distressing memories are stored by nerve connections in the brain so they no longer trigger strong physical and emotional reactions. It utilizes bilateral eye movement and cognitive processing.
Under a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in late June, the state will now pay for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to receive ART or other alternative treatments. The legislation, approved unanimously by both the state House and Senate, makes Florida the first state in the nation to cover ART treatments for veterans.
Veterans Alternative Founder and CEO Brian Anderson has personal knowledge of how ART can help veterans overcome such traumatic memories. The retired former U.S. Army Green Beret watched two of his friends die while serving in the Middle East and credits ART in helping him regain control of his life and emotions.
“This gives you the opportunity to place historical, emotional attachments in their right place where as you see a trigger in a daily occurrence, instead of coming up with a hyper vigilant reaction you can react to it like it’s a normal occurrence,” Anderson explained.
Once the idea of providing this therapy was planted in Anderson’s mind, the next step was finding a location.
Anderson said the Arcadia Road house was given to Veterans Alternative by the American Legion Post 173. “This serves as the ‘team house’ where we do art therapy and music therapy as well as other types of meditation and yoga in addition to the ART,” he said.
The 1.6 acres allows for many types of activities and Anderson said they are fully put to use.
Since opening in 2016, there have been 90 Accelerated Wellness Programs completed serving more than 400 combat veterans and their spouses.
Those programs are offered over a period of five days, three times a month and are offered at no cost to veterans who have served in combat, their spouses and Gold Star Family members.
In addition to PTSD, ART has also been found to be successful in treating other behavioral issues, including depression, phobias, anxiety, grief and addiction, according to ART International, a Tampa-based nonprofit organization. ART International is supported by the Chris T. Sullivan Foundation, which was created by Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan.
Among the 400 who have gone through the therapy, according to Anderson, there has been a 46 percent reduction in PTSD, 61 percent reduction in depression, 56 percent reduction in anxiety, 44 percent reduction in perceived stress, 22 percent reduction in pain outcomes, and 31 percent reduction in sleep dysfunction.
Those statistics were compiled by the University of South Florida six months after people receiving the ART treatment left the therapy program, Anderson said.
Veterans Alternative is already filled for the next few months, but Anderson says more space is on the way.
“We are eager to open our second location in September which will increase our ability to serve the men and women who served us,” he said. “We are opening in downtown Tampa in partnership with the Tampa Metropolitan YMCA.”
Veterans Alternative is a nonprofit organization which operates with the help of donors, foundations and government contracts.
More information can be found at its website, veteransalternative.org.