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Florida vet leads in fight against PTSD, suicides

By KEVIN BOUFFARD | The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla. (TNS) | Published: December 30, 2018

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE) — Local veterans charity 22Zero Follow Me Inc. struck as a revelation to its founder, Dan Jarvis, according to his friend and mentor, Scott Mann.

Jarvis, a Winter Haven resident, was completing a leadership seminar last spring through one of Mann's organizations, Rooftop Leadership Training, when he blurted out, "I know what I'm going to do," Mann told The Ledger.

That revelation was founding 22Zero to help military veterans and first responders (police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians) overcome post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It registered as a Florida corporation on April 18, according to state records.

"I was trying to figure out what's next in my life," Jarvis said. "When I found out there were successful therapies for PTSD, I had to share it."

One of the charitable organization's central purposes is to raise money to sponsor professional counselors, such as psychologists and social workers, for licensed training in two new therapies that have shown remarkable success in treating PTSD, he said. That will inevitably lead to a reduction in veteran suicides.

Another is to put vets and first responders in touch with those therapists who can offer the help, Jarvis said.

"Dan is all about closing the gap between veterans and people who can help them," said Mann, a former Green Beret who had his own issues with PTSD and also runs a vets support charity called "The Heroes Journey."

There are tens of thousands of veteran support organizations, Jarvis and Mann said. So many that veterans have a name for it, the "Sea of Good Will."

But navigating the sea can pose a problem especially for veterans emotionally immobilized by PTSD, they said.

"It's not surprising that people go dark," said Mann, who worked with Jarvis following that flash of inspiration. "It didn't seem to me there were many catalyst organizations connecting people who need help with those who can help them."

22Zero is one of the few private organizations filling that gap, he added.

"He (Jarvis) has one of the few nonprofits fulfilling the need to connect people," said Diego Hernandez, a clinical psychologist at the University of South Florida's College of Public Health who's worked with Jarvis and other veterans with PTSD. "There's no central clearing house for this information. In a short amount of time, he's taken it to the ground and really done something."

Hernandez offers a PTSD treatment called Accelerated Resolution Therapy, or ART, one of two new therapies 22Zero supports, Jarvis said. The other is the Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories Protocol, or RTM, developed after 9-11 by New York clinical psychologist Frank Bourke.

ART is a new traumatic therapy that deals with how people form, store and process memories, Hernandez said. Although he deals mostly with vets, the therapy can be used for anyone dealing with "exceptional experiences" from traumas of war to loss of a pet.

The therapy uses progressive relaxation techniques and rapid eye movements that help the patient visualize the painful memory in order to process it better, he said.

Hernandez treated Jarvis in 2017, which is one of the reasons 22Zero supports ART, Jarvis said.

Jarvis also has experienced RTM with Bourke, its developer, who praised veterans organizations like 22Zero for getting the needed therapy out to the people who need it.

"Without veterans organizations helping us to get veterans to come in, they won't come in. They're so disillusioned with the VA," Bourke told The Ledger. "The veterans groups and counselors are now acting as catalysts for this therapy."

Since his own RTM experience, 22Zero sponsored four professional counselors to get licensed training, at a cost of $2,500 each, earlier this year, Jarvis said. It will sponsor a training session run by Bourke for 20 other counseling professionals from Feb. 27 to March 2 in Winter Haven.

Without such efforts, it could take up to five years to establish the RTM in the veterans community, said Bourke, who credited Jarvis specifically for his passion in advancing the therapy.

Bourke compared traumatic memories to a horror movie that evokes panic in the viewer. Like ART, the aim of RTM is to use relaxation and behavior techniques that enable the client to recall the memory without the panic reaction, he said.

"That's the secret sauce," Bourke said. "If you ask a client to relive a traumatic memory (before RTM), they panic."

Scientific research studies have found RTM has a 90 percent success rate in relieving PTSD and other traumatic events, including phobias, he said. The therapy can take as little as two to five hours.

22Zero sprang from Jarvis' own life story.

He joined the U.S. Army infantry just months after graduating from Winter Haven High School in 1988.

Jarvis served for two years but remained in the reserves. He was recalled to active duty in 2004 and subsequently served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His own PTSD issues stemmed from a July 11, 2011, incident in which a roadside bomb killed a member of his squad and caused brain and shoulder injuries to Jarvis, he said. As a sergeant first class, Jarvis served as squad leader.

The incident affected his ability to sleep for years afterward, Jarvis said.

"Every time I went to sleep, I would hear the explosion, and my heart would go 130 beats a minute," he said.

On top of that incident, four other soldiers in his squad experienced severe injuries during his one-year service in Afghanistan, Jarvis said.

His retirement on Sept. 11, 2014, brought no respite, he said.

His mother died three weeks later, and Jarvis struggled with the guilt of their separation while she was ill. Jarvis said he blamed himself for the stress that contributed to his mother's health problems.

Jarvis dealt with the pain through alcohol and sleeping pills, he added.

"I did what many soldiers do, I got a 12-pack of beer," Jarvis said.

Jarvis didn't feel he had conquered his PTSD until experiencing the ART and RTM therapies in 2017, which led to 22Zero Follow Me Inc., he said.

Although running the charity is his full-time job, Jarvis takes no salary from it, he added.

"Follow me" is the infantry's motto. 22Zero refers to an oft-cited statistic that 22 veterans a day commit suicide, although that figure has been disputed.

Few dispute, however, veterans have a much higher incidence of suicide than the civilian population.

Jarvis' goal for 22Zero is to raise $25 million to sponsor 10,000 counselors in ART or RTM, he said. To learn more about the charity or to donate, go to its website at http://22zero.org.

Kevin Bouffard can be reached at kevin.bouffard@theledger.com or at 863-802-7591.

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