Thursday, November 10, 2011
This week the White House honored the San Diego program Reboot as a model to help veterans and their families reintegrate back into the civilian world.
As the nation winds down its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of service members are returning home.
Leaving the military and returning to civilian life is a major transition, it’s a cultural shift. Otto Delacruz served 22 years in the Navy. Before graduating from the Reboot program, he was facing a lot of fear about losing security for himself and his family.
“The Navy’s provided that for 20 years,” he said. “I knew I was getting a paycheck, medical care and things of that nature. So security for myself and my family was a big issue.”
Krystle Christian served four years as a military policewoman. She said military boot camp drummed obedience into her. She needed to reprogram her mind once she got out.
“Once you’re in the military,” she said, “you have to follow orders. Orders are the most important things. And being out of the military, you don’t have those orders. You have to figure out what you need to do.”
More than 360 people have gone through the three-week Reboot workshops since they began last year. Classes are booked through next spring. It is run by a private non-profit, National Veterans Transition Services. They have raised half-a-million dollars, but are hoping to raise $2 million more to meet potential demand.
In a classroom in a Mission Valley office building, about two dozen people started the November class. One of the first things the instructor asked them to do was list their fears about returning to the civilian world.
“Becoming homeless,“ was the first response. Losing health care was another. Not knowing how to start to meet new goals was a third.
“What are your strengths as a service-member?“ the instructor asked next. That one was easier. Adaptability, multitasking, discipline and loyalty were just a few of the answers. They were written on a big pad of paper at the front of the class.
Reboot Co-founder Maurice Wilson is a veteran himself. He said it’s important to get to service-members early. The participants are still on active duty, but about to leave the military.
“The best way to do this is what we call prevention and intervention,” Wilson explained. “Prevention says get them before they get out of the service and help them reboot their brains, reboot their belief systems, so they can go out and be successful, versus after they get out. You can still do it after they get out, but it’s much more effective to reboot them before they get out of the service.”
Wilson is passionate about helping service-members leave their mental battle scars behind and forge a new mission for themselves.
“The first week focuses on controlling thoughts,” he said, “ How to manage them, how to create a new set of beliefs, how to turn off those unwanted images inside their head and refocus their energy on success.”
The success they are aiming for is not just about finding a new career. It’s also about the emotional challenges to family relationships.
Otto and Osiris Delacruz have been married 11 years. Osiris was a devoted Navy wife and mother. But when her husband told her he was retiring, she felt panicked and depressed.
“For 11 years,” she said, ”all my attention was on him; what he needed. It was on my kids also, of course, but on the next deployment - his workouts; what does he need? what is he going to do?”
After Otto Delacruz landed a good civilian job as a facilities manager, he encouraged his wife to go through the Reboot workshop, too.
“Your confidence changed,” he told her after they graduated. “I saw you go back to the person you were when I first met you. You had to raise three kids, sometimes by yourself, and that wasn’t very easy.You kind of lost sight of yourself, and in doing that, it got to the point where I almost didn’t recognize you. I think Reboot in many ways saved our marriage.”
Osiris described how she watched the changes in her husband as he went through the workshop and how he brought those changes home. It wasn’t until she did the program herself that she found what he had found.
“Right after graduating from Reboot,” she said, “I got a job. I went to an interview, took a job at Alvarado Hospital. It’s very exciting because we’re starting all over again - and we’re starting together. “
Among Reboot graduates, 87 percent have either found a job or gone back to school.
The White House has recognized the program as a national model. Reboot’s founders hopes the next step will be federal financial support.