With a receptive command chain behind him, Spooner went in search of treatment for his issues. For roughly a year, he participated in cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, and vestibular therapy. One thing that struck him immediately was the separation between behavioral health and substance abuse treatment. In the military healthcare system, they’re kept separate, which raised concerns for Spooner.
Spooner’s sobriety helped him avoid the common pitfall trap of service members who experience trauma resulting from combat and turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.
“If a soldier goes in for treatment for their chemical dependency and they start talking about war trauma, the doc tells them that it’s not the place to talk about it. The converse is also true,” Spooner said.
The disconnect Spooner saw while seeking treatment for his TBI stayed with him after he medically retired in 2011.
“No one really knew the veteran suicide rate of 22 a day back when I retired. And it’s hard to intervene in veteran suicide because they just do it. They don’t reach out because that’s how we’re trained,” he said.
Making matters more difficult to address is that most veterans who die by suicide are under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
Spooner says the best way to address the issue of veteran suicide is to address the issue of veteran and active-duty substance abuse.
“Going through treatment, I realized everything was so segmented and siloed. And then adding in the TBI piece — which affects decision making for soldiers who are working through trauma and guilt and are self-medicating, their decision-making skills aren’t the best. It’s not easy to find treatment. They have to run around everywhere. It’s the chicken or the egg. Is it the trauma that they’re using, or is it the drinking that brings up the trauma? It doesn’t matter. Just treat them both,” Spooner said.
Warriors speaking to warriors
One of the challenges service members face in seeking treatment is finding like-minded therapists and a peer network to speak openly about their issues, Spooner says. Warriors Heart understands that veterans are going to be more comfortable speaking to veterans.