Healing invisible scars
Local man takes on mission to help fellow veterans, first responders
Statistics show that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Local veteran Brandon Bradley wants do his part to change that.
Bradley served in Iraq during two 15-month deployments as roadside bomb hunter, where he searched for improvised explosive devices. He said he returned home with scars no one could see but that he felt daily.
“Combat stress can weigh heavy on you,” he said. “I’ve had some close friends of mine in the Army who have committed suicide, and it’s easy to wonder what would drive them to do that … but when you’ve been through it you know.”
A year ago Bradley started looking for a way to reach those who deal with those invisible scars. He found the answer in Reboot: Combat Recovery – a 12–step course that was founded by a psychiatrist in Kentucky and her veteran husband. That was several years ago, and now there are more than 150 local chapters across the United States. Bradley began the chapter in Hartselle last year and will kick off the newest session Feb. 12.
“The VA has several institutions going, and there are programs people start,” he said. “Then of course, a couple of years ago people were doing 22 pushups to raise awareness for the 22 veteran lives lost every day and posting it on social media, but I wanted to do more. I started thinking about what I could do for my community to help those who are hurting.”
Bradley said he connected with a fellow veteran at a men’s conference in Birmingham who was involved in another program, and they worked together to start the Hartselle chapter.
Bradley said Reboot is not a support group but a place where veterans can connect with their friends and neighbors who have dealt with similar issues. He said it is also a place where families can find insight and understanding.
“We’ve been trained to be strong and courageous, so there’s a stigma attached to seeking help,” he said. “There are physical wounds that you can get while you’re deployed, but sometimes a veteran will come back and, because he doesn’t have physical scars on his body, he thinks ‘I’m OK, I’m alright’ and ‘I can fix the things going on in my head by drinking or something else that makes me feel good.’”
Bradley said substance abuse and addictions of various forms lead to the downward spiral that often ends in a veteran resorting to suicide.
“You think you leave the enemy behind on the battlefield, but it follows you home,” Bradley said. “Reboot is here to help. If we look at (PTSD) from a spiritual place – like a wound to the soul – then we can start fixing those problems.
“We can help people deal with the insecurity that comes with anger and anxiety and not knowing what the problem is. As a veteran, I think I can help another veteran deal with those issues, and he might tell me something he wouldn’t tell a doctor or psychologist or even his pastor or spouse.”
Reboot is open to more than just combat veterans. Bradley said the program is also designed to help those who are the first to respond to crime scenes, car wrecks and other traumatic events.
“First responders often deal with the same things a combat veteran does, except when I say ‘This terrible thing happened to me in a warzone’ … they deal with things that have happened on Main Street,” Bradley said. “I don’t have to travel down the road in Iraq where I was blown up – hopefully ever again – but that cop that was shot at in his hometown or the EMT medic who responded to someone who shot themselves … they pass that house or that street often, and their trauma is just the same as any combat veteran.”
Because of the graphic nature of some discussions, Bradley said Reboot attendees must be 18 years old, and childcare is provided. Families and spouses are encouraged to attend all meetings.
“We want the spouses and families to understand what their veteran won’t tell them, what he can’t tell them – what he doesn’t know how to talk about,’” Bradley added.
The local chapter of Reboot: Combat Recovery will meet Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. at West Hartselle Baptist Church. Register online at rebootrecovery.com.