Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

The invisible wounds of war
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Feb 11, 2013, 14:16

photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Rosalyn Dance, keynote speaker at the opening, and Debra K. Osteen, UHS Senior Vice President and President of Behavioral Health Division, shared a congratulatory hug.

One woman spoke of the trauma she faced treating her fellow service members in mass casualty situations, having to make decisions that would determine who lived and died, and having to defend the wounded by fighting off attackers.

Another spoke of the effects repeated combat deployments had on her husband and their marriage.

One young man said that after several deployments with the Marine Corps, he found himself with a pistol in his hand, ready to commit suicide.

“If you want proof that this place is doing good, the simple fact that I’m standing here talking to you right now is proof in itself.” That young man, Justin Bachaus, spoke to the crowd assembled for the grand opening of the new, military services building at Poplar Springs Hospital in Petersburg.

The 18,000 square foot, 32 bed wing, is designed to meet the needs of service members and veterans who might be in search of the same kind of help that Bachaus, and those other veterans who successfully recovered at Poplar Springs, found at the behavioral healthcare facility. 

“In late 2007, at the height of operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the impact of war and associated psychiatric trauma was affecting many service men and women returning from deployment to Fort Lee and surrounding installations,” said Richard Clark, Chief Executive Officer at Poplar Springs. 

At that time, he was approached by Col. Donna Diamond, then commander of Fort Lee’s Kenner Army Health Clinic. She was asking him for help.

“She was struggling to find appropriate treatments for the service members,” Clark remembered.

A partnership was born. Since 2008, Poplar Springs has admitted well over 1,000 service members, from all branches of the military and all corners of the world, where staff members have treated some of modern war’s most stubborn wounds. 

Fort Lee Garrison Commander, Col. Rodney Edge, said that the military has been hard at work trying to find ways to protect its members, finding success with materials like combat gauze, which helps control bleeding. Post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries remain serious threats. 

“Unfortunately, there’s no single treatment, no combat gauze for the invisible wounds that our service members face every day,” Edge said. 

He said facilities like Poplar Springs have played a critical role in helping service members recover from those kinds of ailments.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Officials gathered to cut the ribbon on Friday.

“We could not take care of our military members without civilian facilities, like this one here, that are successfully treating and helping our active duty and veteran service members discover a new normal,” he said. 

Some of those 1,000 service members Poplar Springs has treated were on hand as the facility opened the new wing specifically devoted to treating military patients. 

“The best way to really tell you what this place is capable of is to tell you my story,” Bachaus said.

He was treating his post traumatic stress disorder with alcohol until his body refused to tolerate the alcohol anymore. He was given prescription medications, but developed an addiction to those too. He was treated for his addictions, but he was still not well.

“I was drug and alcohol free, but the problem was still there,” he said of the day he walked out of his de-tox program. “I didn’t have a way to deal with it anymore.” 

Eventually, he found himself clutching a gun, sitting on the bed he shared with his wife, a bed she had always loved, ready to kill himself.

“I remember sitting on the bed with a pistol in my hand and it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, it was that I didn’t want her to have to clean it up,” he remembered. 

He sought help at Poplar Springs, where a holistic approach to healing that focused on his physical, mental and emotional health, started to produce results.

“It was a perfect storm of help that came through,” he said. 

Bachaus said that he hoped stories like his would help fight the stigma that discourages many service members from seeking help. He said making that decision can still call a service member’s leadership abilities into question. The day he went to Poplar Springs, the senior enlisted person in his unit pulled him aside and tried to talk him out of seeking treatment.

“That can’t happen,” he said. 

Gunnery Sgt. Jessica Luna spoke on behalf of her husband, who struggled with the effects of war after returning home.

She said that her husband sought treatment at other facilities, but received the best and most effective care at Poplar Springs.

“It’s given me my husband back,” she said.

Another woman, who had since returned to her duty station, spoke of the trauma she faced after treating the wounded as a medic. She had to triage casualty situations, and sometimes had to make decisions to let one person die in order to save five others.

She managed to recover from PTSD and depression at Poplar Springs.

The $5.8 million dollar facility includes special rooms set aside for loud and quiet activities, an outdoor workout circuit, a pool, a yoga studio and arts and crafts areas.

Debra K. Osteen, Universal Health Service Senior Vice President and President of the Behavioral Health Division, said that while the new facility will be nice to have, the dedication of the staff will continue to be the most critical component in fulfilling the hospitals mission for service members.

“They fought bravely for our country, and as they return, we know that not all wounds can be seen,” she said. “We have an opportunity to help them return to their loved ones and the rich life they deserve.”

Many of the employees who work with veterans at Poplar Springs are veterans themselves, which gives them insight into some of the unique challenges the military population faces.

Del. Rosalyn Dance, D-63, spoke as representative of a town with a new facility that will provide 30 jobs to area residents, a member of the General Assembly, who sits on several committees and subcommittees that deal with mental health issues and as a former employee in the field.

“I know a little bit about behavioral health because that’s all in my background,” she said.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Poplar Springs CEO Richard W. Clark and Fort Lee Garrison commander Col. Rodney Edge at the ceremony.

As a young nurse, Dance worked at Petersburg Psychiatric Institute.

“All I can say is job well done, I’m glad you are here, I stand ready to support you in any way that I can in my capacity as my representative for the 63rd district...,” she said. “Congratulations for all you are doing and will continue to do to make a difference for those in the behavioral healthcare system.”

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