Founded in 2009, At East USA (AEU) came into existence as response to the lack of care the founders saw wounded warriors — and their families — receiving upon returning home from deployment.
“At Ease started with a group of volunteers, and one of them [Scott Anderson] had a client whose son had deployed to Iraq and unfortunately didn’t make it home,” Beth Kramer, At Ease USA executive director, said. “The mother developed secondary [post-traumatic stress disorder], and when asked why she hadn’t sought help, her response was that there were no resources for family members.”
Anderson jumped into action and built out a group of volunteers to help fix that problem.
“From there, At Ease was founded, not to replace the [Department of Veterans Affairs], but to fill the gaps in service,” Kramer said. “We help service members and active military members, but we also serve their families. You know, PTSD doesn’t solely impact the service member; it affects the entire family unit. Whether its the parents or a spouse looking for resources, ways to help their loved one, or just someone to talk to, that’s what we help with.”
Currently, AEU is one of the few organizations in Nebraska solely focused on PTSD. It works to serve Offutt Air Force Base, as well as the National Guard and Reserve units there, and because so much of Nebraska is rural, AEU has developed a telehealth network with 21 therapists who serve Nebraska and western Iowa. The services offered are 100% confidential, so if people don’t want their medical records disclosed, be that to the VA, their service units, or their families, they can be treated through AEU. The goal is to remove any and all barriers to care, whether that’s payment, access, or confidentiality.
“We’re a small, regional nonprofit with a large footprint,” Kramer explained. “Not only am I the executive director — I’m also the fundraising director.”
Through happenstance, Kramer heard a radio ad for Black Rifle Coffee Company and found the BRCC Fund, and At Ease USA became a donation recipient.“I got online, poked around the Black Rifle Coffee website, found out about the Fund, and figured, ‘If you don’t ask, you’ll never know,’” Kramer said. “So I filled out the form, and here we are.”
Photo courtesy of Beth Kramer/At Ease USA.
In addition to therapy, AEU offers peer support groups, and thanks to two former clients, it’s able to offer separate men’s and women’s groups as well as one-on-one services. It has also partnered with universities to assist in PTSD studies and software treatments for PTSD to reach more people in need.
Through a partnership with Creighton University and Tel Aviv University, At Ease has been testing Attention Bias Modification Therapy (ABMT) software that helps to retrain the brains of people suffering from PTSD. ABMT is a straightforward, noninvasive, computerized program, making it a desirable alternative to existing therapies for PTSD. Some may recognize ABMT as having been used in the form of a mobile game meant to distract participants, helping retrain their attentional biases towards something less threatening.
At Ease’s trials study the therapeutic impact of ABMT in soldiers who suffer from PTSD, evaluate changes in PTSD symptoms and severity before and after ABMT, and monitor the brain using new cutting-edge technology to understand how improvements in psychological function arise. The At Ease USA project team also contributed its results to the international ABMT database in hopes of validating this new treatment on a larger scale. After two rounds of successful clinical trials, this treatment software launched in-network for AEU in the hope of eventually making the treatment accessible nationally.
“We’ve had five clients go through the software treatment so far,” Kramer said. “Their PCL-5 scores have dropped significantly, which shows improvement.”
The PCL is a standardized self-report rating scale for PTSD comprising 17 items that correspond to the key symptoms of PTSD. Two versions of the PCL exist: The PCL-M is specific to PTSD caused by military experiences, and the PCL-C is applied generally to any traumatic event. The DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, uses the PCL scale.
“With those results, we’re getting ready to make a few modifications and then roll out the treatment on a larger scale,” Kramer said.
In addition to treating the military community with this software, At Ease has started using it for children between the ages of 7 and 14 who have experienced community-related violence and are facing PTSD. The trial has served nearly 60 students, with the hope that this software will eventually be available in every school, via a computer in a counselor’s office.
“If students have the ability to discreetly seek treatment by taking 15-20 minutes to use this software, hopefully we can break the cycle of impact of PTSD.” Kramer explained.
Photo courtesy of Beth Kramer/At Ease USA.
All of the clinical trials were fully funded by Omaha philanthropists, which allows the donation from the BRCC Fund to go toward AEU’s direct services.
AEU is also working in conjunction with the Veteran’s Diversion Courts, offering dialectical-behavior-therapy group classes that will treat 12 individuals at a time for 12 weeks. The Fund’s donation will also help cover the costs of those group sessions.
“We have continued to grow,” Kramer said. “Frankly, I wish I was out of a job, but we’re not that lucky. So we’ll just keep serving those in need.”