Treatment for physical and mental wounds of war doesn’t always come in the form of medication or therapy. Rehabilitation can take other forms that speak to the expressive side of people as they sort out the difficult moments that happen during a deployment.

That’s the idea behind a new writing program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at the new campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. “Operation Homecoming” will give injured servicemembers a chance to use writing as part of a holistic treatment approach to post-traumatic stress and TBI. Retired Lt. Col. Ron Capps, a 25 year Army Veteran, will head the program:

Capps’ goal, based on his lengthy military career, is to get the troops to confront their fears and learn to cope with them. A central focus of his writing career includes care for returning veterans, particularly those in need of mental health care, and writing as therapy.

“Writing [allows you] to take a memory that might be stuck in the back of your mind, make it physical and shape it,” he explained. “Eventually you understand it’s a memory and it can’t hurt you anymore.”

Health conditions such as traumatic brain injuries and psychological health issues are now known as the “signature wounds” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, officials said. The NICoE’s healing program is for active-duty service members with these signature wounds who might return to duty.

The program will be evaluated on its effectiveness and may see wider distribution at Defense and VA facilities. But why wait to write? There are plenty of blogging platforms to get you writing fast and free. I began to write before I even left for Iraq, and it helped me sort out my thoughts and feelings when I was there—and the long road of reintegration the months and years following my deployment.

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Published on Dec. 19, 2011

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  1. tucker smallwood February 6, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Alex, thank you for your posting and advocacy. I served as an Army advisor in Vietnam and was badly injured. Yet I recovered physically and for 10 years enjoyed a successful life as an actor…until my wheels came off. I was diagnosed and began treatment for PTSD in 1988. Fundamental to my recovery was the insistence of my doctor, Dr. Victor DeFazio to write! And so I did. A book of essays emerged, Return To Eden, published in 2004, following my own return to Vietnam. I’m now medicated and enjoy quality of life but in those eight years of depression and self-destructive behavior I came very close to ending my life. Writing helps us confront what troubles us and our words help others to recognize their own issues. I’ve tried for two years to conduct a pilot program involving individual and group therapy, writing and sharing those thoughts aloud. Couldn’t enroll a therapist to run it. I’m thrilled that this program is underway and hope it will be replicated across America.

    Tucker Smallwood

  2. Linda January 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    Alex – we just saw the report on Denver Post and hope you will blog about it!

    We are in the process of assembling and producing a MUSIC VIDEO on

    PTSD – “Be gone! PTSD”. Lyrics are written – it is being filmed and produced in Nashville and all directed to getting rid of the stigma. It is also the kick off of our relationship with Nashville Film Institute and Backpack and working with Veterans an the VA.

    We would like to stay in touch with you – as we move this forward as you might enjoy attending the filming – as we suggest as a “cure” – sing it out – blog it out – write it out – etc.

    Linda Dennis
    A Backpack Journalist

  3. Heather January 9, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Alex, I have PTS and a new TBI. I’m not a veteran, but I come from a military family and I REALLY relate to many of the issues that our wounded warriors face. I have found healing through art (since I couldn’t write after my TBI – I was a writer/CEO before…now I can’t write very well or even work). Anyhow, I am seeking a way to help veterans heal from these wounds…to get involved somehow. I am open to suggestions…and more than anything…I wanted to make the connection and introduce myself.

  4. Jenny Taylor January 1, 2012 at 12:14 am

    Alex this seems like an interesting program and hopefully allows some another means of rehabilitation. Thank you for sharing the information and I look forward to reading more of your posts as well as updates on how the new writing program is going. Have a great new year!

  5. _B_ December 28, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Alex, you need to go back to writing your own blog. Like sex, writing for a paycheck isn’t the same. I’m not saying quit writing for the VA, just write your blog on the side-in 20 years, you’ll look back and know the difference.

    • Alex Horton December 28, 2011 at 11:05 am

      I took the job to help fix what I saw was a major issue: communication between VA and Veterans (and vice versa) was sorely lacking. I put my education on ice and moved across the country to try and help fix things. That means some sacrifice for the greater good, which means my personal writing had to be scaled back. Luckily, I’ve found other outlets to continue my personal writing. I’m back in school, so writing for myself would’ve been curtailed anyhow. I know the difference already. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Debbie Wilson December 27, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    My Dearest Soldier

    My dearest soldier, I remember when you would have died for me,
    Why then oh why, is suicide the only option you can now see?

    I sit here alone and wish I knew how to call you up on the phone.
    I wish I knew who or where you were so I could make sure you aren’t alone.

    I wish you would send me your email so I could just drop you a line,
    The real truth is, I want some guarantee that you will eventually be just fine.

    But wars hurt and mame and the warriors never come home quite the same.
    You all have paid such an ultimate price and life in this world can get insane.

    If I could scream at you I would say just wait a little longer until you want to again live.
    But I know that with PTSD, brain trauma, wheelchair’s, and all the rest, your feeling you must have nothing else to give.

    But if you will take just a moment to listen to a friend, I promise with time the heart can again mend.
    If you listen close I’ll tell you the truth, even with a battered body or mind, you still have something special you can give a friend.

    Make sure someone gets you some access to a phone and a computer,
    Because I am excited to see what you can all do if You choose to live until the future.

    There will be hope again in your life, I Promise!

    With Loving Regards,
    Debbie Wilson 12-26-2011

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