VIA – Veterans in Action

After extensive studies as to what was happening with veterans in the UK who were suffering from PTSD it seemed that apart from traditional therapies and a few alternative therapies there wasn’t that much that outside of those therapies that would help veterans before, during and after therapy.

VIA then looked at what was happening in other countries and it was much the same but then came across the studies of a Doctor Simon Crisp in Australia who had developed Wilderness and Adventure Therapy for young people.

VIA took the learnings from these studies of Doctor Simon Crisp and with VIA founder, Billy MacLeod’s own studies in Neuro Linguistic Programming he developed the ALIVE Program.

ALIVE is a three stage program that helps veterans rebuild their confidence, self-esteem and self-belief using the outdoors, adventurous activities, expeditions and centre based projects.

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Stage 1 ALIVE Program

The first Stage of ALIVE is where we initially engage with a veteran whether it is by a phone call, social media, meeting veterans face to face, on our events, at our centre or by referrals.

Building deep rapport and trust with the veteran is a very important aspect of what we do and to move at the veterans pace at all times encouraging them to take the next step forward when it is right for them. In this initial stage we encourage the veteran to take part on activities, whether it be a 1 day walk, weekend event or on our projects

In our experience working with veterans suffering from PTSD or those who find the transition to civilian life difficult it is very common to see veterans who shut themselves away from society and very rarely leave the house or who may self-medicate using alcohol or drugs.

After the initial contact with the veteran and building rapport and trust we then work on getting them involved within the team. This is done by invitation and empathy with no pressure and assurances that they will only move forward at a pace they are comfortable with.

This is about taking ownership of how they feel themselves and by recognising that by doing something they are helping themselves move forward in an environment they feel comfortable with at all times and recognising when they are moving forward through their own efforts with guidance from VIA.

Most of this initial work is done at the VIA ALIVE Centre where veterans are invited to attend for an initial meeting to assess their individual needs and at times to refer them to other organisations with VIA Welfare Officer doing much of the work for them.

They are then shown around the centre and shown the different projects available to see if they would like to get involved. All these projects have been designed by VIA to help veterans rebuild their confidence, self-esteem and self-belief in a ‘safe’ place’.

The achievements at this point are on many different levels and move at the veterans pace with encouragement from our team.

Stage two: ALIVE Program

Definition of an expedition:

A journey undertaken by a group of people with a definite objective:

ALIVE Program Outdoor Element

VIA’s Expeditions element is an innovative, hands-on, approach to initiative, personal growth, group dynamics, and expedition education. This tested and proven approach based on Wilderness Therapy and studies from Doctor Simon Crisp.

Wilderness Therapy has been designed specifically for juveniles which in comparison accommodates many of the similar conditions we find in VIA with service personnel suffering from PTSD as well as those who have found the transition to civilian life difficult and works to help rebuild the veteran’s confidence, self-esteem and self-belief.

VIA did not design Wilderness Therapy, we took a working model from a structured and proven academic study, adapted the findings into what VIA did design, the ALIVE Program.

Throughout all Expeditions , VIA Team Members and Support Team encourage those veterans taking part to use the environment and experience to learn about themselves and as an active member of a team, to refresh old skills, learn new skills and to relearn old skill sets such as self-awareness, time management, and group dynamics.

VIA’s Expeditions provide a platform for veterans to achieve with opportunities to learn, teach, and lead in short and long distance walks over the diverse countryside and National Trails in the UK. All of these valuable skills are directly transferable to the day to day life of the veteran.

The Expeditions are designed for veterans to be involved before, during and after any therapy or welfare needs they may have and to help those who may have lost direction and purpose and have a desire to grow far beyond what they believe they can accomplish, finding a deeper meaning and purpose in their lives. This phase offers a time of reflection sameness to difference.

Over the last 5 years VIA have walked a distance of 12,600 miles across the UK with over 500 veterans suffering from PTSD.

VIA Walks are designed to challenge veterans physically and mentally and to encourage participation within the group.

On long distance Expeditions VIA normally get veterans working in pairs and each day they walk with a different person with each pair covering between 10 and 15 miles.

This allows participants to form relationships with everyone taking part that will become part of their support network in the future and to learn from each other throughout the expedition. VIA Team Members encourage participants to recognise where they are on each day of walking and to brief and debrief each day to share the value of each day’s efforts.

Veterans are encouraged to take in the environment they are walking through and to take pictures throughout the event so that they have a visual representation after the expedition and all pictures taken are shared between the whole team afterwards.

VIA’s Expeditions are a personal choice and involve being part of a team and maximum participation depending on abilities or physical injuries. Veterans taking part must make an informed decision to commit to the outdoor activity, expedition or event — to be active participants for their own personal growth.

To help realise that commitment, VIA Team Members and Support Team build a framework for open communication within the team and those veterans taking part.

The Expedition experience is life changing and through exciting outdoor adventures and experiential learning can enable veterans to develop a firm foundation of confidence, self-esteem and personal initiative.

What a veteran can learn from participation on VIA Outdoor Activities, Expeditions or Events

VIA Outdoor Activities, Expeditions and Events are a non- therapy process and instead use the initial rapport of veterans working with veterans to build trust between the VIA Team and those veterans taking part. This alone allows many barriers to be broken down very quickly and veterans taking part recognise the language and banter around camp as something they recognise from their time in the services.

All VIA Outdoor Activities, Expeditions and Events are therapeutic as opposed to traditional ‘sit down’ therapies and are designed to complement any therapy that an individual may be going through.

After completing an expedition, veterans are then supported and advised on a pathway to enable to get the help they may need whether it be therapy or welfare needs and can come away with some or all of the following:

All of these outcomes equal ownership which is difficult to find, let alone own, without support.

Stage 3 ALIVE Program

Stage 3 of ALIVE is a continuation of Stage 1 where veterans can stay involved in the active teams and in the future to create new teams in different areas. This stage also provides training in accredited outdoor skills and courses and to guide veterans towards other organisations that cover different aspects to VIA.

With new found confidence levels veterans are more inclined to move towards therapy from organisations such as Combat Stress or towards education and full-time employment.

Veterans can also get involved in VIA Projects or to challenge themselves on VIA Challenges such as the National 3 Peaks Challenge.

Centre Based Element

Throughout the development of VIA we were always conscious that after therapy or an expedition a veteran returned home but to what?

Sometimes they returned to a place that could indeed be part of the problem or that they felt isolated and in many cases they ended up just as they were or sometimes worse.

To help combat that, VIA looked locally where they were based in Andover, Hants for somewhere they could set up a centre and to develop projects that veterans and their families could get involved in that would challenge both physically and psychologically.

After visiting several potential locations which were on industrial estates with lots of noise and people we eventually found the ideal location that although out of town was on a Private Estate