Thursday February 28, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Bob Brusa said the American military does a great job of turning citizens into soldiers, but is at a loss when it comes to helping those people re-enter civilian life.

The U.S. Army Special Forces veteran and former sergeant served his nation during the Vietnam conflict and for decades later suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as result of his experiences there. Brusa eventually sought help for his ailment through The Warrior Connection, a regional initiative dedicated to helping combat veterans overcome PTSD. He said the program changed his life forever and he recently got a friend to perform at a musical event to benefit The Warrior Connection.

The Don Campbell Band, which has opened for musicians such as Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis, will perform from 7:30 to 11 p.m. at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1034 this Friday. Tickets for the event, which will also include a silent auction, cost $15 each and are available at the door. Brusa said 100 percent of the proceeds will go to benefit The Warrior Connection.

The program, based in East Dummerston, hosts separate five-and-a-half-day retreats for combat veterans and their spouses. Executive Director Anne Black, Ph.D., founded the program in 2009 because she was alarmed by the high rates of suicide among veterans and the number of soldiers returning from service with PTSD.

She said the pilot retreat was held in October 2010 and nine retreats have been held to date. Black, who holds a doctorate in community psychology and thanatology (which focuses on dying, death and grief), said the first retreat for female veterans was held last fall.

Brusa, who now lives in Atkinson, N.H., said the program uses spiritual methods and expressive art to help participants learn how to live an effective, wholesome life. He and his wife, Susan, graduated from the program.

"It has given me the skills and ability to manage my PTSD, which was running my life," the former Green Beret said. "I got a glimpse of my soul, which is something even people without PTSD don't get an opportunity to do."

Brusa said he witnessed a lot of death while serving in Vietnam and the military provided no support to returning veterans who had seen what he saw.

Black said the retreat preaches methods such as yoga in addition to expressive arts, which she said bypass the mind, go into the subconscious and allows anxieties to come to surface and be released. She said a lot of the work is geared toward forgiveness and acceptance of loss -- of both innocence and close friends.

Black said the program has gained popularity and so far has 10,000 volunteer hours logged. She said Friday's event will launch the 2013 retreat season. Nine have been scheduled from April through October.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.