November 11, 2013

Scarred by war, veteran works to help others heal

Richard Brewer started One Warrior Won to give support to other vets with post-traumatic stress disorder.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Photo shows Marines stationed at the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983. Richard Brewer is circled in white at lower right.

Photo contrubuted by Richard Brewer

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Richard Brewer is the founder of One Warrior Won, offering support for veterans suffering from the effects of PTSD. Here, Brewer is interviewed at his Exchange Street office.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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VETERANS DAY EVENTS

PORTLAND: 10:30 a.m. parade starts at Longfellow Square; 11 a.m. ceremony at City Hall

SOUTH PORTLAND: 10 a.m. parade starts at Broadway and Pickett; 11 a.m. ceremony at Service Memorial park

WESTBROOK: 11 a.m., Riverbank Park; a ceremony hosted by American Legion Post 62

HONORING KOREAN WAR VETERANS

A rolling convoy to honor veterans of the Korean War from Yarmouth, North Yarmouth and Cumberland will make three stops on Monday, followed by a luncheon at the Amvets Hall on North Road in Yarmouth:

9:45 a.m.: Moss Side Cemetery, Cumberland

10:30 a.m.: Wescustogo Green, North Yarmouth

11:11 a.m.: Yarmouth Town Green, Yarmouth

PTSD SYMPTOMS

Re-experiencing an event over and over again, like having nightmares.

Avoiding people or places that are reminders of an event or feeling numb or detached.

Being routinely on edge, irritable or startling easily.

SYMPTOMS OF traumatic brain injury, in which the head was hit or shaken violently, as from an explosion: Difficulty organizing tasks, blurred vision, headaches or ringing in the ears, feeling sad, anxious or listless, chronically tired, dizzy, memory problems, impulsivity, light and sound sensitivity.

Source: Department of Defense Force Health Protection & Readiness

Before that, he worked for the Massachusetts State Police and a private security firm in Washington, D.C., and earned bachelor’s degrees in special education and history.

But four years ago, he almost took his own life.

It was, he said, his “God moment.”

He reasoned that his failure to pull the trigger “must mean I really want to live,” and set out to understand why – even though he was successful – he was still depressed. He was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.

“The relief is almost instant, just to know you’re not crazy,” he said.

Brewer has since traveled the country working to educate the public about PTSD and reaching out to veterans.

What veterans with PTSD need is someone who has been through combat himself and who understands the effort of trying to reintegrate into society, he said. And they want to know there’s a path out.

Brewer said there are stages to helping people deal with PTSD:

The first is helping them become aware of it and understanding how it affects them. It often manifests itself in drinking or drug use.

“What we do is exist, survive. ... We’re emotionally numb,” and that can wreak havoc on relationships, he said. At the same time, combat vets can be anxious and easily startled.

The second stage is developing coping mechanisms.

“It’s never going to go away, but there are ways you can change your life so you can live a better life,” Brewer said.

Brewer said he works with veterans to find activities that help them express and displace some of the negative emotions.

“One of the reasons a number of us suffer is not only because we’ve seen and done horrific things that had to be done in battle, it’s also because we miss the camaraderie and the adrenaline,” Brewer said.

Many of the activities are adrenaline-based: a few days of deep-sea fishing, big-game hunting, ice climbing or whitewater rafting.

“You’re building new experiences, replacing those images,” he said. “You want to capitalize on those shared experiences that are positive.”

And it’s in the midst of those activities that some healing begins, he said.

“There’s something magical about that campfire,” he said, referring to the down time the participants spend after an outdoor activity. “Many of these guys haven’t laughed in quite some time.”

Brewer also tries to show veterans that a constructive outlet such as poetry, art or meditation can help.

Brewer said his organization is not large, but takes an approach similar to Alcoholics Anonymous in bringing together people with shared experiences so they can help one another. That is the third stage.

“The tip of this pyramid is not only about having your life back. It’s also about reaching back and grabbing somebody else,” he said.

Brewer does public speaking and provides educational services. He also has appeared on television and radio programs.

Over the last four years, he estimates some 400 veterans have reached out for some support from One Warrior Won. “I’m proud to say out of the 400, none of them has committed suicide.”

Brewer believes every combat veteran experiences some degree of traumatic stress, though some cope with it more easily than others.

Maj. Earl Weigelt, a chaplain with the Maine Army National Guard, said it’s admirable to help veterans who need it, but he worries that some people will come to believe PTSD is inevitable.

He is afraid the public will believe that anyone who serves in combat comes back with a severe disability, and that misimpression might hurt recruitment and dissuade some people from a path in the military that might be right for them.

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Additional Photos

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Office equipment stands outside the damaged U.S. Embassy annex in the Christian sector of East Beirut, Lebanon, on Sept. 25, 1984, as cleanup work continued in the aftermath of a car bomb attack.

1984 Associated Press file

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Richard Brewer and his dog Anka in Dallas, Texas.

Photo contributed by Richard Brewer

 


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