SAVANNAH, Ga. – Every Tuesday afternoon the “Seeking Safety” therapy group gathers inside Savannah Counseling Services on East 70th Street. It’s part of the Jail Diversion Trauma Recovery program or JDTR. Everyone in the group has had run-ins with the law. Three of the five in this particular group are military veterans who still struggle with their time in combat.
“We’ve been in several ambushes and I’ve seen a lot of my peers got killed,” said Fred Reynolds, Jr., who served in the Army and did two tours in Vietnam. More than 40 years after coming home, he’s still haunted by the war. He said he was wounded during a firefight.
“I’ve had dreams,” Reynolds said. “I’ve woke up and my significant other, she be crying, and I asked her what’s wrong and I look at her where I had done choked her at night in my sleep.”
Reynolds, who has post traumatic stress disorder, said he turned to drugs and alcohol and has had trouble holding down a job.
Mike, who didn’t want to use his real name, deployed to Iraq twice as an Army infantryman. He said he saw a lot of bad stuff during combat, and came back with an anxiety disorder that affected his memory. He’s also being treated for PTSD. Mike got into some legal trouble, had trouble keeping a job, and said it’s been hard adjusting to civilian life.
“Very anxious about everything,” Mike explained. “Anxious about finding a job. Anxious about where I was going to live. How I was going to maintain and then even worried about how I was going to deal with a job.”
Everett Tolbert is the JDTR program director. “We can assist them with possibly being an advocate for them to either help with their jail time, help with a reduced sentence, reduced probate of time by offering therapy in lieu of incarceration,” he explained.
The 25-week long program is run by the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and Gateway Behavioral Health. It’s helped more than 40 local veterans during the past three years. “They come in and learn coping skills, and on how to deal with their trauma, also if they have substance abuse issues, we deal with those issues as well,” Tolbert said.
While some veterans struggle with their war experience many others move on to lead productive lives.
Army Specialist Dustin Rutter of Jesup just returned home last week from a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan. He’s a gunner for his platoon. His unit didn’t suffer any casualties, but coming home was an adjustment.
“The first couple of nights I couldn’t sleep very well, or I was constantly jittery just trying to find something to do,” Rutter said.
Rutter has re-enlisted for another four years and he and his fiancé Corryna, are getting married next month. So far he feels pretty good, but he said if he has problems later he’ll seek help.
“They have wide varieties of ways to help soldiers and it’s been pretty good because some of my buddies needed it more than anybody else just because it was their first time and was a weird experience for them so the Army definitely takes care of us for it,” Rutter said.
He definitely feels for those vets that struggle for years. Veterans like Mike, who says group counseling is helping him move on. “It’s an ongoing battle and I know for the rest of my life I will struggle with it and so will many of my other brothers in arms out there so they need to go out and get help,” Mike said.
The Jail Diversion Trauma Recovery program is available to anyone in the criminal justice system. For more information, you can call (912) 790-6589.