Sense of Valor Helping Minnesota Veterans in Recovery

November 11, 2018 10:16 PM

On Veterans Day, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS is honoring those who have served our country and raising awareness about a problem some veterans have.

According to a 2017 National Institutes of Health study called "Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges," 11 percent of veterans who show up in the VA Health Care System for the first time have substance use disorder, meaning they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. And the number is higher if they were deployed or saw action in combat.

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Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge has a new program called Veteran's Track that is seeing success.

United States Marine Corp veteran Mark Rios is Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge's veterans outreach coordinator.

"In a lot of veterans' minds, if I seek out any kind of help that means I'm weak," Rios said. "This is a good, safe environment for veterans. It's run by veterans, it's for veterans, it's supported by veterans and they can be themselves within the group."

Rios did two tours in the Marine Corps. He said there was a lot of drinking.

"I think it's a culture, it's acceptable," he said.


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The Veteran's Track group meets twice a month. Rios tells veterans in recovery that to heal they need to be open and to trust others. 

Karsten Ormiston served in the U.S. Army from 2004 to 2012.

"When I'm with a veteran I can say, wow man, this is real. Someone really understands me," Ormiston said.

Rios has been a counselor for 20 years and has seen drugs and alcohol destroy too many veterans. He knew there had to be a better way and that's how the Veteran's Track Contract came to be.

"And that contract is something we believe in. And it's like a mission; you know my mission is to make sure I survive and I'm going to be there for myself and my loved ones," Rios said.

The contract appeals to a veteran's sense of valor. It's a promise to themselves and others, much like the oath they took to serve our country. 

"We refer to it as a contract, but it's a personal study guide to focus on specific issues that an individual might be dealing with," said Annie Kanakes, a United States Marine Corp veteran who has overcome her own addictions and now works with veterans at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. "I would agree that the contract is a pledge to help yourself."

"It restores a sense of purpose and resolute that I want to serve my country, my community and my fellow veterans," said Ormiston. "It's painful, but the healing part is just amazing. When you look back and say wow, look how far I've come, now I can be the man that I'm supposed to be." 

Participants in the Veteran's Track program also get help connecting with benefits they've earned by serving our country. Rios believes all of it together gives veterans in recovery a solid foundation for a sober life.  

"Seeing the successes, how certain resources, certain programs, have worked for certain veterans in the program, has just been amazing," Rios said.

According to Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, the Veteran's Track program served 117 vets in 2017 and is on track to serve more than 150 this year. For information, call 612-FREEDOM (612-373-3366).

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge has 11 campuses across the state with multiple program options to meet many different needs.

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Kevin Doran

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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