Healing Ajax, a program of Resources for Human Development (RHD), combines peer support with evidence-based, trauma-informed care for a strength-based approach to helping veterans who experience PTSD, depression or other behavioral health challenges. Healing Ajax uses an adapted version of Community Connection’s Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM), on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs. Healing Ajax groups consist of 10- 12 veterans and are co-led by a clinician and co-facilitator, at least one of whom is a veteran. Veterans participate in twenty-four 60-minute weekly sessions. Currently there are five groups that meet in Philadelphia and a new one being developed at a VFW Post in West Chester, PA.
In Healing Ajax groups, veterans engage at the emotional level that feels safe to them. In some instances, the program serves to ready them to engage in more intensive treatments, but the choice is always left up to the veteran. T.W., a combat veteran who served in Iraq and is a graduate of Philadelphia Veterans Court, has observed “I’ve gone to a lot of different places for a lot of different treatment. With Healing Ajax, I’ve found a home and a place that really works for me.”
RHD started Healing Ajax in 2008 out of a passionate desire to respond to the needs of combat veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Healing Ajax has evolved over time to welcome veterans of all eras and discharge statuses. Its name derives from the Greek warrior Ajax who distinguished himself during the battle of Troy but who, upon returning home, was unable to reintegrate into society. Healing Ajax offers a new way to address very old problems by harnessing the power of the veteran-to-veteran bond to the effectiveness of evidenced-based practices in a form that is meaningful to veterans. Healing Ajax is designed for accessibility, a sense of safety and effectiveness. Services are free to veterans, involve minimal paperwork and offer the assurance of confidentiality.
Healing Ajax offered its very first Vet-TREM group onsite at the Philadelphia Veterans Multiservice Center in 2008, a group that continues to this day. The program caught the eye of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) and Healing Ajax was invited to be part of a jail diversion initiative for justice-involved veterans. Philadelphia’s Veterans Court now serves as a major source of referrals to Healing Ajax, with support from a SAMHSA grant secured by DBH. To share the model, the director of Healing Ajax, DBH’s Veterans Service Coordinator and DBH’s Veteran Peer Specialist recently gave a well-received session at the 2014 PA Veterans Forum in Grantville, PA. The director also met with legislators in Missouri to describe the program. In April, 2015, the director will present the Healing Ajax model at a Case Conference at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.
Providing no-cost, “hassle-free” services that respect the strengths of those who served in the military is core to the Healing Ajax mission. Funding has come from modest-size government grants and contracts, private donors and foundations, including a grant from the Wounded Warrior Project. During the past three years, a SAMHSA grant through the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health has allowed Healing Ajax to serve veterans diverted from prison by the Philadelphia Veterans Court. In December 2014, the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency awarded the City a new grant to provide Healing Ajax groups to veterans in the Philadelphia Prison System. With an eye to sustainability, Healing Ajax staff is working to create a continuum of services that includes trauma-informed groups, drug and alcohol services, individual counseling and linking services. Exploratory conversations are underway with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and other potential partners.
The Healing Ajax peer-to-peer approach is well suited to replicability given its simple and robust nature. Group facilitators are trained in the Vet-TREM model and use the 24-week manualized curriculum to plan meetings. In this psycho-educational and cognitive-behavioral approach to trauma recovery and skill development, leaders facilitate group discussions around themes such as trust, anger, hope, trauma and communication. At the same time, there is ample flexibility to accommodate group needs. Trained facilitators and meeting space are the basic ingredients, along with veterans. Healing Ajax is currently starting a new group funded by a faith-based organization that will meet in a VFW post. The Vet-TREM model is versatile and has proven successful with justice-involved veterans, veterans experiencing homelessness, Vietnam and Gulf War era veterans, male and female veterans, and family members of veterans.
Healing Ajax tracks the following outcomes: number of veterans served, attendance, completion of 24 week program, graduation from Veterans Court (where applicable), and veteran satisfaction. Healing Ajax is adding pre- and post-tests based on the Vet-TREM model, including changes in self-awareness, self-protection, self-soothing, emotional modulation, sense of purpose, decision making and judgment. During the 12 month period ending June 30, 2014, staff completed 53 one-on-one assessments of veterans referred by Philadelphia Veterans Court. 92% were male, 8% were female and the age range was 20 to 66. Since July 1, 2013, fully 89% of Healing Ajax participants have either graduated from Veterans Court and the Healing Ajax program or are still actively participating. Three individuals who completed the program have now been trained to serve as co-facilitators of groups and one completed Certified Peer Specialist training and is working with veterans in that capacity.