Once Desperate For Relief From PTSD, Veterans Are On A Mission To Create Hope For Heroes

Morgan is a writer on the branded content team who loves breakfast food almost as much as she loves dogs.

When Master Gunnery Sgt. John Escalante returned home from his third deployment in 2005, transitioning back to civilian life wasn’t easy.

“When I came back home, I missed that camaraderie, I missed that regimented lifestyle we have in the Marine Corps,” John told LittleThings.

For years, John hopped around from one veteran organization to the next, hoping to find the right community of like-minded individuals to make him feel at home again. Though every organization he joined had the same goal of aiding and bringing together veterans, each had “their own style and approach” — and they weren’t the right fit for John.

In 2012, after trying three or four different groups, John stumbled onto Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB). As someone who loves being active and physically engaged, the former Marine was immediately intrigued by Team RWB’s mission to unite veterans through physical activity.

“My first event, I remember clearly, was a four-mile run in Central Park,” John said. “I went there early and the first thing I noticed was a bunch of [Team RWB members] dancing around like a bunch of squirrels. It’s a lot of positivity radiating from the members. It’s incredible.”

Since his first run with Team RWB, John has stayed actively involved with the organization, and is now the deputy captain for the New York City chapter. Like many others, John found a like-minded community in Team RWB with whom he could exercise and just pal around.

Team RWB’s goal is to “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” Through triathlons, marathons, yoga classes, and thousands of other events for its members, Team RWB aims to combine the health benefits of physical activity with peer-to-peer interaction.

According to a 2009 Rand report, approximately 26% of veterans come home from combat with mental health conditions like PTSD, anxiety, and depression; many of those conditions go undiagnosed. Luckily, various studies have shown that exercise can be just as effective as common SSRIs to treat depression, which is why organizations like Team RWB are so important for veterans.

“There weren’t many service organizations available to help veterans transition [when I came home],” said Lucy Del Gaudio, a Team RWB member who was able to cope with her PTSD with the help of fellow teammates. “Team RWB has helped me greatly with connecting with veterans that felt the same way as I did.”

John noted that about 40% of the veterans that come to him are “bumping into obstacles with psychological issues,” and are looking for “healthy ways to mitigate these issues as opposed to dealing with prescription drugs.” For more severe cases of PTSD, Team RWB works with certified clinicians, psychologists, and professionals to get their members the help they need.

“The idea is that through non-acute care, we are really focused on building those relationships in a safe environment so that should a veteran need that more acute care for something that happened while they were in the military, they will feel comfortable and have solid relationships to help them navigate next steps, whatever it might be,” said Megan King, development director for Team RWB.

“People might come to the organization for health — they might come wanting to get back in shape — but what usually happens is that… there’s such a community there that it quickly turns into almost a family-like situation,” said Jessica Reid, Northeast program manager for Team RWB. “There are these really strong relationships built.”

Though Team RWB is an organization for veterans, they encourage civilians to get involved in local events and chapters. In fact, of the 271,626 people who attended events in 2015, 113,575 of those were non-veterans.

“We serve about 70% veterans, and then 30% of our members are non-military,” Megan said. “[It’s about] really helping both sides build a relationship through things like runs and yoga.”

Whether they’re looking for psychological help, a physical outlet, or just a group of people to hang out with, veterans flock to Team RWB and describe it as filling a hole in their life that they may have never even noticed.

“Joining Team RWB gave me something that I hadn’t realized was missing in my life, and that was a sense of community,” said Mark Otto, a former Marine. “Since my departure from the Marines, I’ve always felt like an outsider. I remember attending my first Team RWB event, seeing everyone in their patriotic team jerseys… hugging and embracing each other, and feeling that after over 20 years of being out of the Marines, I’d finally come home.”

Please SHARE this story on Facebook if you’re inspired by this organization’s amazing support for veterans across the country.

Team Red, White & Blue currently boasts over 200 chapters nationwide and is constantly expanding, thanks to the support of companies like TD Bank, who is helping to make a difference throughout the U.S. with their Bring Change initiative. For more information, check out Team RWB’s website, or head out to a Team RWB event happening in your area!



Thumbnail Photo: Facebook / Team Red, White & Blue