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Veterans and first responders can find healing at Warriors Heart

- November 10, 2023

When we call 911 on the worst day of our lives, we expect someone – a police officer, a paramedic, a firefighter – to come to our assistance.

But where are we, asks Josh Lannon, founder and CEO of the addiction treatment facility Warriors Heart, when that first responder is having the worst day of his or her life?

“These are our protectors,” Lannon said. “We have asked them to protect us, but where are we when they need our help?”

Warriors Heart is an inpatient treatment center for military veterans, law enforcement officers and first responders with substance abuse disorder and co-occurring psychological disorders, such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Lannon and his partners opened the first 152-bed treatment facility near San Antonio, Texas in 2016.

About 90% of patients successfully complete the 42-day residential program, Lannon said, and the team is hoping to duplicate its success on the east coast.

Warriors Heart Virginia, located on 520 acres of fields and woods in Caroline County, had a soft opening on Sep. 11.

“There is a huge need here,” Lannon said. “The state of Virginia asked us to come. No incentives, just ‘Please come.’ There is deep-seated addiction here, and Virginia has come to terms with the fact that there is a problem and (people) need a lot of help.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin last year announced “Right Help Right Now,” a plan to address Virginia’s behavioral health challenges, including the opioid epidemic, which continues to rage.

The population served by Warriors Heart – active-duty service members; veterans; law enforcement officers, including corrections officers; first responders; and emergency room doctors and nurses – experiences higher levels of occupational stress than the civilian population, with the corresponding higher risk of developing substance use disorder and PTSD.

When fully operational, Warriors Heart Virginia will be able to treat a total of 60 residential patients and will have a staff-to-patient ratio of 1:1, Lannon said.

It offers detox as well as inpatient treatment, which can include medication assisted treatment for opioid addiction.

Seven patients were in residence in early November and three had just graduated the program, he said.

The facility so far has hired 33 staff members, ranging from landscapers to doctors, most of them local to Caroline and surrounding counties.

The daily routine at Warriors Heart is organized like a training course.

“So it’s familiar to (the patients),” Lannon said.

Mornings are dedicated to physical activity, such as yoga, nature hikes or jiujitsu. Then there’s classroom study, individual and group therapy, and a customized afternoon program with electives such as art, wood shop, fishing, cooking, the gym – which is outfitted with Rogue Fitness equipment – and eventually, a K9 program.

“In Texas, we’ve rescued and placed over 300 dogs,” Lannon said. “The warriors train them to be emotional support dogs and if there is a connection, the warrior can adopt the dog.”

The property where Warriors Heart Virginia is now located has had a troubled history. A one-time Easter Seals camp for adults and children with physical disabilities, it has also housed an eating disorder treatment center for teens, which closed in 2011 following a reduction of insurance coverage for residential patients, and a Christian boarding school that closed in 2014 after at least four students ran away and multiple staff members were convicted of assault, abuse and neglect.

Michael Marotta, executive director of Warriors Heart Virginia, said he believes the property was waiting for its current owners.

“We believe we were meant to be here,” he said.

On a recent Friday at Warriors Heart, rescue pup Layla trotted around the lobby greeting visitors. In the kitchen, a pan of apples was bubbling away, soon to become apple cobbler that the staff and residents would eat together at the next meal.

A nurse entered one of the bedrooms, where a new resident was resting under a plaid comforter.

“Hello,” she said. “Welcome home.”

Adele Uphaus is Managing Editor and Correspondent at FXBG Advance. 

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