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Filling Gaps in Veteran Counseling, WarriorNOW Works To Reach Veterans Struggling With Substance Abuse Recovery

WarriorNOW (WN) came into existence when co-founders Brian Johnson and Todd Kramer found a gap in service for the veteran community. Johnson himself suffered during his substance-abuse recovery process, and the lack of resources and support during that process inspired him to found of the organization. 


“Our main focus is those veterans who have mental health diagnoses, PTSD, and addiction,” Gabrielle Griego, WarriorNOW team member, said. “We work to get them resources, specifically through peer mentorship support, in order to reintroduce the veteran to the journey of life and finding connections now that they are no longer in service.”


The organization works to recruit other veterans, get them involved, and place them with peer mentors and recovery coaches within the group. Notably, the only nonveteran in the entire organization is Johnson’s wife Melinda. 


Photo courtesy of Gabriel Griego/WarriorNOW.

WarriorNOW works within six veteran treatment courts in the Colorado area. This encompasses 100 mentors serving 1,200 veterans currently in those veteran treatment courts for a variety of issues, from alcohol- or drug-related issues to some more severe issues like domestic violence. 


“Those receiving support from WarriorNOW need a foundation in recovery,” Griego explained. “Whether that’s mental health help or substance abuse, what we are really trying to ensure is that these veterans are no longer judicially impacted.”


“Being a mentor means being there for a vet struggling to fit back into an unstructured civilian life after years of service in a highly structured military life,” Ben Wolfe, WarriorNOW mentor, said. “I have found immense satisfaction in being there for these vets and helping them transition back into civilian life. Our brothers need us, and we need them.”


Photo courtesy of Gabriel Griego/WarriorNOW.

In addition to the mentorship program in the veteran treatment courts, WarriorNOW offers family services, educational and event-based, to help get the veteran reintegrated with their family. 


“Sometimes we as veterans don’t even know why we’re feeling the way we do, why we’re having issues or blowing up,” Griego said. “The reintegration services WarriorNOW offers help to just explain to the family members what the veterans are going through and give them a better understanding of PTSD problems or substance abuse. This allows them to ask questions, share stories and gives the WarriorNOW facilitators the chance to give them resources and help them through the process.”


“The path they have given to not only my husband suffering from Vietnam PTSD but the many veterans they are helping with virtual calls seven nights a week (Buddy Check), pro socials within COVID restrictions, offering mental awareness training including self-care for all their veterans,” Kay Wolfe, a veteran’s spouse, said. “Keeping our veterans engaged and not focusing on ending their lives. Their selfless work goes beyond miraculous.”


Though WN is based in Colorado, its Buddy Check program has expanded to include veterans all over the country. Every night on Zoom, at 7 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, this group logs on to talk with whoever happens to need some interaction online. 


“A lot of times, when it starts to get later in the evening, that’s when we find ourselves alone or overthinking things or maybe drinking or thinking about doing something dumb,” Griego explained. “The Buddy Checks allow us to refocus, talk to other veterans in a safe space. Aside from keeping religion and politics out of it, there’s really no rules in the group so that the veterans feel as safe and comfortable as possible joining the conversation. There are seven trained facilitators that help to handle the calls with about 1,800 veterans on our mailing list that receive the Zoom link every day. Obviously not all of them sign on every day, but it’s really an awesome program that allows us to talk, even if its only twenty minutes at a time.”


WarriorNOW also offers a whole-health model, finding ways to offer alternative events, like recreational therapy. For example, every day throughout the week, it offers activities like bowling, volleyball, or fishing in different areas in conjunction with a post-traumatic stress group. 


Photo courtesy of Gabriel Griego/WarriorNOW.

Griego is the reason WarriorNOW received a donation from the Black Rifle Coffee Company Fund — as a coffee drinker and BRCC fan, he has also stepped into a role with WN to help identify sponsorships. 


“I spend a decent amount of time on the BRCC website, and once they asked me to help out with sponsorship opportunities, I remembered that the Fund had a donation request form,” Griego said. “I feel like we were very fortunate to hear back from the Fund. The money we received from the Fund is going to help us expand our family-centered training program and continue to build up the Peer Mentor program so that our mentor-to-mentee ratio becomes more balanced.”


“WarriowNOW (WN) tackles the veteran suicide dilemma with mentorship, virtual buddy checks, recreational therapy, and pro-socials. I have personally watched this nonprofit save lives through this approach. It’s truly inspirational to watch the process,” Todd Kramer, WarriorNOW co-founder said. “The nightly virtual “Buddy Check” is an open forum for all veterans to meet and just talk about whatever is on their mind. I personally know there are so many veterans that are grateful for this forum.


“I have also attended some of the weekly bowling recreational therapies, and everyone present is having a great time, and you can just feel the healing in the room. The staff is not just friendly and knowledgeable of veteran issues, but they are all veterans themselves, or spouse of, which I think makes it all that much more effective. They even have a family services division that services the needs of the spouses, which is huge. WarriorNOW really does tackle the problem from all angles, and I’m beyond proud to volunteer with such a needed cause.”


To learn more about Warrior Now (or to get involved), check out its website or Facebook page.