Last November, Vietnam War Veteran Clinton Lanier, Jr. walked into the Savannah VA Outpatient Clinic on a mission to change the course of his life. Lanier began using opium, heroin and marijuana while deployed to Thailand and Vietnam in the late 60s. The drugs, he said, were a respite from the horrors he witnessed during the months he spent in theater. However, Lanier had no way of knowing his antidote to war would spiral into an addiction lasting 50 years.
But late last year, everything changed for the 70-year-old.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I stopped because I wanted to stop. Even a cancer diagnosis in 2007 didn’t stop me,” Lanier says of his drug habit. “I stopped because I didn’t even know what it felt like to be sober.”
Lanier’s decision to get clean could not have come at a more opportune time. At the end of last year, the Substance Treatment and Recovery program, or STAR, was just taking shape at the Savannah VA clinic. After completing a 45-day detox program at the Dublin VA Medical Center, Lanier was quickly accepted into the program.
“I made a decision that I wanted to succeed at this thing,” Lanier said. “When I came here, I was offered the STAR program. It’s helped me out a lot and it keeps me on the right track.”
Lanier’s commitment has paid off. Earlier this year, the Army Veteran became the first graduate of the Savannah VA Outpatient Clinic’s Substance Treatment and Recovery (STAR) program.
Savannah STAR program
Savannah’s STAR program is an intensive, outpatient substance abuse treatment program that offers individual assessment and treatment plans for Veterans struggling with addiction. Participants are required to complete a comprehensive four-week, 36-hour curriculum that teaches them recovery skills to help cope with addiction and pointers for how to set realistic goals. A primary goal of the program is equipping Veteran patients with the tools they’ll need to manage a healthy, clean lifestyle and avoid relapses.
Formerly called the Substance Abuse Treatment Clinic, or “SATC”, the program has been a staple at the main VA site in Charleston for several years. It functions on a smaller scale at the Myrtle Beach and Hinesville outpatient clinics.
The Savannah VA Outpatient Clinic’s program kicked off in January 2017. Over the past year, the dedicated staff of the STAR team worked together to develop the program. The team is comprised of Dr. Walter Ware, clinical psychologist; Angela Taylor and Pamela Rawdon, senior social workers; and Charles Henry, a certified peer support specialist. This summer Psychiatrist Dr. Rachel Maree joined the team to provide evidence-based medication management for STAR patients. The coordinated care provided by Savannah’s multidisciplinary team provides Veterans with a myriad of tools and resources to help them combat substance misuse.
STAR program participants must complete four sessions of nine separate classes taught three days a week. They are also required to attend a weekly Aftercare group, which provides a more relaxed setting where attendees can “get real” about the issues they are facing in a less class-oriented environment.
Peer Support Specialist Charles Henry leads several Aftercare sessions and has been helping Savannah Veterans fight substance addiction for the last two years. He’s passionate about helping Veterans in the STAR program and offers an element of sincerity these patients may not get in a typical recovery setting. A recovering addict with more than 20 years sober, through his role as a peer support specialist, Henry has been trained to counsel fellow Veterans struggling with addiction.
“My grandchildren are always there to keep me on the path I’m on.”
“Peers are walking, talking, evidence-based proof that recovery works. I’ve been in these Vets’ shoes. I’ve been homeless. I was addicted to alcohol, to crack cocaine. Estranged from my family,” Henry explains. “All the things that they go through, I feel their pain because I was there.”
No time like the present
Recovery is an ongoing battle that every addict continues to fight every day, but the always-dapper Lanier remains completely dedicated to maintaining his sobriety. Today the Army Veteran has been sober for eleven months and credits his success so far to encouragement from his instructors and mental health providers, and the camaraderie he feels with other Veterans enrolled in the program.
“I’ve been used to doing things on my own for a long time,” Lanier says. “But it’s a good feeling to have someone pat you on the back.”
Lanier remembers his days of getting high, and recalls how quick-tempered and angry he was then. During the lonely half-century Lanier spent hiding his habit, he avoided being around his family – always afraid that they’d see who he really was.
“But now, I’ve always got by my grandchildren and great grandchildren around me. They’re always there to keep me motivated and staying on the path I’m on.”
Author: Lanelle W. Strawder, MA, Public Affairs Specialist