Montana WILD and VA Program Helps Veterans Recover From PTSD, Substance Abuse

A collaborative program between the Montana Veterans Affairs Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Park’s Montana WILD has earned national attention and has been proposed as a positive treatment option by the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The program provides veterans with an opportunity to learn about animal rehabilitation and then to use that experience in the veterans’ own recovery process. Each week, veterans in the program learn about a different raptor (bird-of-prey) and its process of recovery. Participants, also, learn about the raptor’s characteristics, habits, the important role it plays in its ecosystem, and how they can help raptors. Injured and rehabilitated falcons, owls, eagles, hawks and even turkey vultures from MT WILD’s Wildlife Center have been used to teach different aspects of recovery, including patience, recovery plan, natural healing and the power of hope and positivity.

During the eight years of the program’s existence, more than 1,000 veterans have participated. This includes 447 veterans in Montana V.A.’s PTSD residential program, and 623 veterans in Montana V.A.’s substance abuse residential program.

In a 2014 study of the program, veterans were tested on motivation, feelings of peace, feeling connected to life, enjoying the company of others, anxiety/stress, ability to focus and feelings of pain before they started the program at Montana WILD and after they completed it. The study showed that 70.6 percent of veterans had an overall improvement of these symptoms, and 30.2 percent had a marked improvement in symptoms.

Veterans leaving the residential rehabilitation program have consistently rated the Montana WILD program as one of the top most valuable aspects of their treatment.