After Army Veteran Jason was injured in Iraq, he came to VA’s polytrauma program to recover. Recreational therapist Jamie Kaplan helped with his physical and emotional recovery.
It was at VA that he found a new meaning to his life and a new direction. Jason and Jamie joined tell their stories and talk about their passion for helping others.
How were you injured in Iraq?
Jason: We turned on a main road and got hit by an IED. I just was worried about not being able to walk again, really. I ended up going through a lot of bouts of depression and PTSD. And I definitely had a hard time for long, long years.
Jamie, when did you first meet Jason?
Jamie: The first time I met Jason he was coming to our day program for our Polytrauma Transition Rehab Program. And he didn’t say a word. He was very quiet. He was very shy. He sat with his back to the wall.
He was very concerned about new people, very nervous, a little anxious. So we had to build somewhat of a therapeutic rapport with him and gain his trust before we could really start to interact.
Jason, when was the turning point for you?
Jason: The turning point was probably when I got into the program here at James A. Haley Hospital in Tampa. And then I started meeting the recreation therapists, like Jamie Kaplan.
Jamie Kaplan is a really great guy, so basically right from the start I had an instant connection with him. And it was just really fun watching him and learning from him.
What is recreational therapy?
Jamie: Recreation therapy is a therapeutic intervention or treatment that uses recreation and leisure instead of the traditional methods of therapy. So I kind of call it the sneaky therapy because people don’t actually realize they’re doing therapy.
Jason, how do you feel about exercising now, after the work you did at the Rec Therapy?
Jason: After I started doing Recreational Therapy, it ended up opening my eyes that I still could perform and do physical activities. VA can do kayaking and fishing and take you hiking or running or anything, really. Especially if you go with the right recreational therapist, they can help you get the benefits that are there.
Jamie, how were you able to help Jason?
Jamie: Jason’s goals were specific-activity based. He wanted to be back out there. He wanted to be lifting weights. He wanted to be interactive, like he used to be. And that’s how we get a lot of that information, is ‘I used to do this. I used to have a lot of friends.’ Well, let’s figure out a way to make it happen. And with Jason, he was in the driver’s seat from the get-go.
Jason, was there any one moment when you realized what you wanted to do with your life?
Jason: It basically just hit me that I needed to start working again, so I decided to look into school again. And I looked into, like, PT and OT, and just any medical field stuff, but recreational therapy had helped me the most, so I figured I wanted to do that.
And I want to be able to give back to other Veterans and help as many as I can. I have my final internship this summer at Tampa General Hospital. So I’ll do 14 weeks there for 560 hours. Once I finish that, I take a certification exam in rec therapy. I’m hoping to get a job at James A. Haley.
Jamie, could share your feelings on what it’s like to work in health care in VA?
Jamie: I didn’t serve in the military. This is my service to my country. Taking care of these guys and making sure they’re getting the most benefit for what they do – it’s my thank you to them. It’s my way of giving back to them. And if you approach your job in that way, you have a different level of care. You have a different understanding, a perspective in how you deal with the patients.
Jason, what is the difference for you between now and when you left the military? And where are you now? How do you feel?
Jason: After I got wounded, I didn’t really know where my life was going to go after that. Now after going through VA and the rec therapy program, I know my life has a purpose.
I really just want to become a recreational therapist and help as many Veterans as I can.