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Festival promotes hope for those affected by PTSD

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    Representatives from the PTSD Foundation of America and members of the headlining band Amy N Me. PTSD Foundation of America representatives include: Michael Carson, Central Texas outreach chapter manager; Dana Martin, volunteer; Jay Fondren, outreach manager; and Zack Alexander, outreach special projects manager. Amy N Me band members include: Amy Linn, vocals; Alby Valadez, vocals and guitar; Ray Lavine, bass; Roy Riggs, drums; and Jeff Knight, keyboards.

A festival hosted by the Community Gardens in Bastrop on Saturday, November 14 helped raise money and spread awareness of the struggles facing combat veterans and first responders.

Hope Fest was a festival benefiting Camp Hope and the central Texas chapter of the PTSD Foundation of America. PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, which often occurs when a person experiences or witnesses a terrifying event and can cause flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety. The festival featured activities, veteran-owned vendors and live music, including the band Amy N Me from the Texas Country Music Association.

“We save veterans’ lives,” said Michael Carson, the central Texas chapter manager for the PTSD Foundation of America. “We hope to continue to reach out and cut down on the number of suicides each day.”

Carson has his own story about PTSD and Camp Hope. He was sworn into the Army National Guard on September 11, 2001, then immediately spent the next 14 years in active duty and served a total of 19 years. He struggled with use of alcohol and drugs, two of his friends died by suicide, and he eventually attempted suicide himself.

“After I came home, life wasn’t the same,” Carson said. “I deployed real strong, confident and committed, and returned with invisible wounds that my family, my friends, even me myself didn’t understand.” At that Carson

At that point, Carson found Camp Hope, a program with the PTSD Foundation of America located in Houston. There, he was taught skills such as anger management, coping skills, grounding techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy, and he participated in group sessions to talk about addiction. Camp Hope also gave him a place to stay and provided food and clothing, then helped him get set up with a vehicle, a house and a job once he was about to graduate after 11 months in the program.

“We get educated in how to be a civilian again, once you actually deal with those demons from deep inside, and allow something bigger than yourself to heal those things,” Carson said. ... “They literally gave me my life back, plus some, and it is due to contributions from individuals who donate to Camp Hope.”

Carson encourages any combat or first responder struggling with line-ofduty stress or post-traumatic stress, or anyone who knows someone in that situation, to reach out to the PTSD Foundation of America at www.ptsdusa.org or call their crisis line at 877-717-PTSD (7873).

“Don’t hesitate,” is the advice Carson would give. Don’t ever think that you’re alone, because I’ve been there, I understand it, I’ve been through it. The worst thing that we can do is isolate and not reach out. There are people out there that care about you. I’m one of them, and I would much rather hear your story than read your obituary.”