The Pathway Home Makes Inroads in Treating PTSD

An innovative California facility offers hope to combatants with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries

The Pathway Home encourages its residents to go into the community. "The real test is when you go outside," explains program director Fred Gusman. (Catherine Karnow)
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Inside, patients talk about their wartime experience in group meetings known as trauma sessions, which are at the core of the Pathway program. In these arduous talkfests, warriors relive their days on the front lines, recalling scenes they would rather forget—the friend cut in half by an improvised explosive device, the comrade killed because he could not bring himself to shoot the enemy who used a child as a shield, the young warrior who lost one leg in an explosion and awoke as the other was being amputated, the Navy corpsman working frantically to save severely wounded Marines as bullets whizzed by his head and hope slipped away.

“No movie begins to portray the horror, the shock, the emotional aspect of being there,” says that Navy corpsman, retired Senior Chief Trevor Dallas-Orr. Like others who have been through the Pathway program, Dallas-Orr, a decorated veteran of the first Gulf War and Iraq, credits Pathway with saving his life.

“I lost my family, my job, my home, my identity,” recalls Dallas-Orr, 45, who was living out of his car when he vainly sought treatment in the V.A. system. “Fred’s team opened me up and I started to realize, ‘Hey, this is a good thing.’ If it hadn’t been for this place, I’d be dead. I would’ve just melted away.”

After almost a year of treatment at Pathway, Dallas-Orr returned home to Southern California this past spring. He still struggles with nightmares, insomnia and outbursts of anger, but he has learned to manage them, and he has re-established contact with his two estranged sons. He recently spoke to an audience of several hundred people in San Diego for Operation Welcome Home, an event organized by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to honor returning warriors. “No way in hell I could have done that before,” says Dallas-Orr.

Sitting across the table, Gusman credits Dallas-Orr and his fellow warriors with their own revival. “Well, I always say you guys are doing it yourselves,” says Gusman. “It’s your courage that pushes you forward. Our joy is seeing you being successful in your own right. That’s how we get our goodies.”

Gusman’s program faces an uncertain future, however. Pathway’s one-time initial grant of $5 million ran out in August. The center is raising funds to keep its doors open.

Robert M. Poole is a contributing editor. Photographer Catherine Karnow is based in Mill Valley, California.


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