It’s all about hope.
For many veterans and first responders suffering from post traumatic stress — to now include doctors and nurses working with coronavirus patients — hope can be a difficult feeling to find. The pain and darkness can be too heavy to bear.
And for too many, the choice to end the hopelessness leads to suicide.
In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that between 17 and 22 veterans and service members commit suicide every day.
California filmmaker Michael Gier was not aware of this fact until he began working with service members and veterans on a film he was planning. When he learned of the terrible statistics, and the reasons behind them, his mission changed and became a passion project: Wounded Heroes Documentary, a documentary Gier said he hopes will potentially save lives.
“We were going to produce a film called ‘Wounded Heroes,’ same name but a theatrical film ... but after interviewing these veterans ... it was Carl’s interview that really got to me,” Gier said. “He was a young guy in his late 20s, was a medic, and he was suicidal. His girlfriend found him, and that’s the only reason he didn’t finish. He was on 16 different drugs. I got out of that interview thinking, just what the heck is going on? That’s when I figured the feature film could wait. I need to do a documentary.”
Gier and his wife Terri began a three year search for programs which successfully treat post traumatic stress, potentially giving hope to those who may have given up.
“There has to be something better than just handing out a bunch of drugs,” Gier said. “Especially when he said the drugs weren’t working — they were just a Band-Aid.”
Gier interviewed many health care professionals using alternative therapies which are proving effective, and veterans who successfully underwent the treatments. The hope of the documentary is to show anyone who may be suffering from PTS that there are ways to overcome it without drugs. Gier said he also hopes family members and friends of those with PTS will see the documentary in order to better understand what their loved one is going through.
Some of the treatments highlighted are horse therapy, Accelerated Resolution Therapy and Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories, or RTM.
RTM is a treatment that seeks to alter key aspects of the target memory to make it less impactful. For one former Fort Hood veteran, it was a treatment he believes saved his life.
Brett Heimpel, of San Diego, California, said he was in a bad place while stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado.
“I had lost some pretty good friends and I kind of dealt with it in the normal Army way — self medication (alcohol),” he said. “It wasn’t until I got to Fort Hood that I realized I had developed a major issue. It was around 2016 when I failed out of Special Forces assessment.”
Heimpel said he lost all of his friends and attempted suicide in November 2016. His wife and child were upstairs, and his wife called his platoon sergeant.
“The whole platoon came over and stopped me,” he said.
Heimpel was put on mental health drugs, and everything was going well for several months. At the time, he was stationed with 2nd Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
“Then when I deployed (to Kuwait), I lost my best friend. He committed suicide in front of me. I was (evacuated) back to the states and completely relapsed again,” he said.
Fortunately, his unit looked out for him and he was able to be honorably discharged, he said. He returned to California, where his mother owned a business. He continued to seek treatment through the VA, who continued to up his dosage of mental health drugs until he hit the maximum dosage.
“I was given what they called medically-induced apathy, which only made my PTSD worse,” Heimpel said.
After another incident in 2019, Heimpel was introduced to Dr. Denise Budden-Potts who specialized in RTM, and decided to go ahead and try it.
“The first session, it was like being hit by a baseball on the side of my head — I didn’t quite know what was happening,” he said. “But I felt that something was different.”
The idea behind RTM was to recreate the situation, or memories, but with a better, safer outcome, Heimpel said the doctor explained to him. He would still understand the situation was negative, but would not have the negative emotions associated with it.
“The second session drove it home for me, and after the sixth session, I was able to start doing normal things again. I was able to go work with my mom at her business,” Heimpel said. “(Before) my PTSD was so crippling I couldn’t even leave my house. When she removed all that, it was like I could breathe again. I’ve spent the last year and a half just getting my life back.”
Wounded Heroes Documentary is filled with stories of veterans such as Heimpel, along with interviews with the doctors and counselors explaining the different treatments and what the benefits are of each. Gier also keeps a list of different treatments available, which he hopes to continue updating as he learns of other treatments, at the film’s website, woundedheroesdocumentary.com.
The film will be available for streaming on multiple platforms — such as Amazon, iTunes, Google and Vudu — March 5.