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Veterans find hope after trauma

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit https://suicide...

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is extremely common among combat veterans. In the past it’s been very hard to treat. But now younger vets in Iowa are learning how to overcome their mental injuries, and live here on home soil with a new found purpose. 

“I’m done talking about veteran suicide,” said veteran, Troy Peterson. “I got it. I was almost a statistic.”

When Troy Peterson got home from Iraq, his life was riddled with addiction and depression. Things got so bad it almost it almost cost him his life.

“On July 30 of 2015 I attempted to take my own life,” he said. “I planned it out that that was going to be my last day. I didn’t want to admit that I was struggling and I didn’t want to admit to my problems.”

The next day he woke up in a hospital bed embarrassed and confused. But determined to find a new purpose.

“Best thing that ever happened to me, was that I hit rock bottom.”

The Purple Heart recipient started CrossFit and found what he had been missing since his days in the army. And with the help of his friend and trainer, Jeff Woody, they launched ValorFit.

A place where veterans help veterans rebuild their life through fitness.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” said co-owner of North Ankeny CrossFit, Jeff Woody. “And we can do as much as we can to help someone, but until they decide to actually do it it’s null and void and so all these veterans are doing the work themselves, we are just trying to put them in the right environment.”

ValorFit is something that has brought Troy’s life back into focus, and is helping dozens of others do the same.

“I think that if it saves one life is pretty lazy and it’s kind of like we will just settle for this average one life. I think we should save as many as we can,” said Peterson. 

Therapist Michele Lundstrom says that’s exactly the help veterans living with PTSD need to heal. A passion that gets them into the right mental state.

“I’m getting choked up talking about it because I sit with this all the time and I want people to know that you don’t have to keep telling it over and over,” said Lundstrom. “We can treat the symptoms and the symptoms tell a story and that’s what people didn’t know when people were returning from Vietnam.”

And Michele is talking from experience. She relates to veterans because she is one.

“During deployments I was kind of the one people always came to and it was kind of this natural progression, here is my calling here is what I am supposed to do,” she said.

The way PTSD is treated has improved drastically in Michele’s eyes since her time overseas. She says making sure the mind, body and soul are in tune with each other is the key recipe to mental success.

“I love to be a therapist at this time in history when we have these treatments and this modalities and the stigma is lessening and more people are realizing hey therapy’s not that bad, it’s actually a good thing and it can be very healing,” she said.

Things have not only changed at the medical level when it comes to PTSD, but also our culture shift in mental health advocacy.

“The great thing about today’s society is that it is not ok to suffer alone,” said Peterson. 

And that’s just what this group has found with ValorFit. The workouts bring a sense of comradery, something this band of brothers thrive off of.

“You always have a battle buddy and now we have one here and so when people first realize that that’s when I say they get it like you see that ah ha moment and they know they aren’t alone and that they do have people and these are my people, these are my tribe,” said Peterson. 

ValorFit is the opportunity that Troy didn’t have when things got bad. Every class is a reminder of the life that almost vanished.

“I tried to make my wife a widow and that is something I keep in my pocket,” he said. “I wouldn’t have the two kids that I have. They would be fatherless and so that is something that I regret trying to take away from them and that I continue to be better everyday for them in hopes that other veterans can continue to see their children.”

To learn more about ValorFit or get involved, you can contact Troy through his website: http://valorfit.org

Local 5 will be airing several veterans stories throughout the next few days. As well as a special on Monday Nov. 5 at 6:30 p.m. following our regular newscast.