By alexguerrero | Albert Lea Tribune
A new, all-military sober living house may soon be coming to Wells. “There’s a real link between lack of sobriety, [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and suicides,” said Tim Murray, executive director of Trinity Sober Homes. And because there aren’t many all-military sober houses in Minnesota, Murray wanted to do something to address the issue.
He defined a sober house as a transitional living environment for people coming from receiving treatment for drugs and alcohol. For him, sober houses created an opportunity to help people transition.
“Most military veterans are uncomfortable being in a sober house situation with people that have very different experiences, particularly if they’ve seen combat,” he said, noting most houses were a mixture of younger and older people.
And because few — by his estimation 1% — were focused on helping veterans, he thought military veterans would be more comfortable going to sober housing with other veterans. In fact, there are currently less than 10 nationwide.
Needs for veterans can include PTSD, something not necessarily common among the general public. But a big part of recovering was sharing secrets, and Murray said people were more likely to talk about their experiences with people they feel they could relate to.
“This is an emerging need,” he said. “If it was ever created, it’s being created now.” The sober house will follow its traditional model of providing spiritual coaching and private rooms to older men.
The new home will also have three components unique for veterans: mental health counseling, animal therapy that will pair retired canine and military dogs with veterans and a hydroponic farming operation to provide immediate employment.
Murray said the mental problem was bad, with 20 to 30 veterans committing suicide daily, a statistic he labeled “an unacceptably high number.” Another 75 to 95% of those suffering PTSD abused drugs and/or alcohol. Roughly 15% of the military suffered from substance use disorder, a statistic that wasn’t much higher than the 10% of the world population. “I don’t know if the incidence of chemical abuse is significantly higher among veterans,” he said. “However, the severity of it is much higher,” he said.
Last year, veterans comprised around 5% of the state’s population, but almost 15% of suicides — and the problem has gotten worse. He attributes the growing problem to several explanations. The first was a higher awareness and diagnosis of PTSD among veterans.
“In the past somebody might have said something like, “Well, they went off to war, they came back and it really affected them.’” he said. “There was no name to put around it.” The second explanation: drug and chemical addiction was historically perceived as a character defect, meaning more willpower would cure the problem. It’s only been in the past few decades that chemical addiction has been viewed as a disease and handled in a medical and spiritual way.
The new house, which would be able to house 13 veterans, will be located south of Wells on 150th Street. The house would be 4,000 square feet, while the property is 5.63 acres. Currently, Murray has a purchase agreement on the property contingent on raising about $500,000. The property is for sale for $350,000. “Then we’ll remodel the property in the second half of the year and be ready to open on Jan. 1,” he said. Veterans would pay $500 per month, and meals would not be provided. All residents would be required to work, and Murray said the hydroponic farm would provide two to three jobs. Transportation would be available for anyone in need of it.
Over the past four months, he spoke with over 100 people, including members in the Veterans Administration, retired and active veterans and people in and out of treatment, and found support for the all-military house.
“The pleasant surprise has been the overwhelming support and the complete lack of resistance from anyone in the marketplace,” he said, referring to the project. “Usually when you’re launching an initiative like this there’s usually some small but vocal group of people who are going to protest for some reason.”
Currently, Trinity Sober Homes owns the St. Isidore Farm outside of New Richland and three additional houses in the Twin Cities: the St. Michael, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael houses. He described the potential property outside of Wells as a ranch home with 13 private bedrooms. “We think part of the dignity of helping military veterans is making sure they live in a high-quality environment,” he said. Besides providing a place to live, he wanted the potential home to be within 30 minutes of Veterans Administration medical services, as well as being 30 minutes from Murray’s location outside of New Richland. That left Rochester and Mankato. Those eligible to live there must be veterans regardless of their discharge status, and Murray said they’ll typically come to Trinity Sober Homes directly from treatment. ‘We’re not dealing with the homeless population,” he said. “… we’re really dealing with the roughly 300,000 vets who went to treatment last year.” Residents will also be required to work 30 hours per week, with the farming operation providing two or three jobs.
Veterans interested in living in any of Trinity Sober Homes properties can visit the organization’s website at www.trinitysoberhomes.org. They may also be referred to by counselors.
Anyone interested in donating can visit www.bravozuluhouse.org.
The target purchase date is July Fourth, with plans to remodel immediately afterwards. Murray’s son is an active major in the Army, and his father also served. His interest in helping came after Col. Fr. Martin Fleming helped with his alcohol addiction. “I was a somewhat successful business person that had turned into a drunk,” he said. “I was living in my car at the age of 50, and Col. Fr. Martin Fleming took me, saved my life and asked me to use my business background skills to carry on the work that he had started.”
And Trinity Sober Homes was started 13 years ago.
“There are very few solutions for our veterans who are struggling with PTSD and are also struggling with drugs and alcohol,” he said. “Most of the military services — which are wonderful — are pointed primarily at helping somebody with their PTSD.
“But if you’re drinking and using drugs while you’re also going to therapy, it just not really going to be very effective. We need to get these guys sober first.”