Earlier this month, retired Army veteran Mark Gross of La Grande took part in what organizers say was “a tremendous weekend of camaraderie and healing” during a pilot program at the Veterans Restorative Care Center under development at Hot Lake Springs.

While smaller in scale and shorter in length than what the VRCC will offer when fully operational, the pilot program was intended to test the basic premise of the VRCC: combining naturopathic medicine from the National University of Natural Medicine with the camaraderie and outdoor recreational therapies from the Warrior Bonfire Program, according to a press release from VRCC’s director of marketing, Kristen Cooper.

“The pilot program was impressive to me,” Gross said. “I’ve been to similar programs before and they have hiccups, but this one went very smoothly. (All the veterans) got something out of it.”

The VRCC’s mission is to provide a complete solution for veterans and their families through naturopathic and Chinese medicine treatments as well as education, vocational training, team building, and mental health, nutrition and recreational therapy. Key components of the program include providing group support at the center backed up by giving veterans beneficial tools that they can take home and weave into their daily lives as they continue their journey of healing.

The Restorative Care Center will also be an integral part of the La Grande community. A planned hydroponics and aquaculture operation that will fund the facility will provide more than 100 new jobs, according to the release.

As stated on the VRCC’s website, the care center’s ultimate goal is “to promote the healing and the return of health and hope to our veterans and their families.” When they return from service, many veterans experience post-
traumatic stress disorder and other mental and physical ailments.

Gross, who participated in the pilot program along with five other veterans, said he has never been diagnosed with PTSD, but he is a disabled veteran who served more than 20 years in the Army.

He explained that once the center is fully operational, the vets coming to VRCC will be able to stay there for a few days, weeks or even months. The program will also eventually invite the family of the veteran to come because they are important in the healing process.

Besides journaling and breathing exercises, the National University of Natural Medicine treated the “whole person” by sitting down with the veterans one on one to evaluate their needs and facilitate their healing, Gross said. The participating veterans also received the benefits of soaking in the waters of the hot springs and of acupuncture during the Oct. 6-9 pilot program.

Nicolina Hesse, from Wicked Wilderness, an outdoor enthusiast group, provided outdoor recreational therapy during the pilot program, leading the veterans on a hike around Morgan Lake, according to the release. There was also plenty of quality time to bond with other veterans who empathize, which is valuable in the healing process. The weekend ended with the retiring of a U.S. flag, a special ceremony allowing the veterans to say goodbye to those they knew who have been lost in war.

Gross said he was very impressed overall with the program. The only suggestion he gave the program staff was to have a manual or pamphlets explaining the center’s programs, because veterans are used to having structure and will want to know what to expect. Gross said he’ll be working to spread the word about VRCC and raise money for the program.

“This weekend illustrated to me that we are on the right path to providing healing for veterans and their families,” said Mike Foss, president of the Warrior Bonfire Program. “The pilot is just the beginning of something much bigger, not just for the veterans, but also for the VRCC.”