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Banking on KC – Justin Hoover of The Battle Within

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Click here to listen now, or read the transcript below:

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Justin Hoover, a military veteran and the Executive Director of The Battle Within, an organization that helps veterans and first responders along the path to healing. Welcome, Justin.

Justin Hoover:

Thank you, Kelly. It's nice to be here with you today.

Kelly Scanlon:

The name, The Battle Within sums up, in many ways, the mission of the organization. Tell us about that mission.

Justin Hoover:

The Battle Within is really here to help our warriors break down the barriers to receive the mental and behavioral support that they need. We really provide the community, the resources and the time that they need to heal. If you look at ancient warrior cultures long before modern medicine, that's really what our program is steeped in, of giving them the safety and that community that they need to heal themselves from the traumas that they've endured in service to others. It used to be when a war would happen, most of the men from a community, the village, the town, the city would go off and fight together. It would be a long march or a slow boat ride where they would all have time to really connect with one another, learn one another.

Justin Hoover:

The same thing on the backside of the war. When they'd come home, it was a long, slow process. At the point when they returned back, they would be welcomed by the community as a whole. There would be feasts, and there would be rituals, and they would be able to celebrate their victories and mourn their dead, and really have that opportunity as a community to allow them the space to heal. Nowadays, you can really go from the killing fields of Afghanistan or Iraq back home in 78 hours, or if you're a first responder, you can really have those traumas within our community and then go home and coach your kids' soccer team that same day. Really, what we do is create that sense of community, again, through our five-day program where these warriors have that opportunity to come home and really begin to understand those traumatic burdens that they've endured, have the opportunity through some of those rituals, catharsis to share and understand what is troubling them and keeping them from being that true self that they deserve.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of the differentiators between your organization and others is that you embrace all first responders, correct?

Justin Hoover:

We do, yeah. We serve both active duty, military, veterans, law enforcement, fire, EMS, corrections officers, dispatchers, and ER personnel. Our definition of warrior is somebody that doesn't get to say no in the face of crisis.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned the five-day program. That's at the core of your offerings. There's other programs that you have as well or other assistance that you offer, but that five-day program is at the core. Talk to us about that.

Justin Hoover:

This is a program that we hold about once a month here in Kansas City. It's available for veterans and first responders from around the nation. Again, it's an opportunity to really understand the burdens within and a big part of that is having those peers. These are communities and professions where there's a lot of stigma around mental health. They're team sports, right? My life depends on you being able to your job and if I feel that you can't, the quickest way is to isolate you from the group so people don't talk about it. They don't share that they have some struggles in their life. This is really an opportunity for them to come together and honestly share those struggles, have that vulnerability where they understand that that's really a strength, not a weakness. It's just such a powerful thing when you have such a diverse population that comes together and everyone begins to believe that no one can understand what they're going through.

Justin Hoover:

Myself as a veteran, you start to think, well, no one can really help me because they don't understand what a deployment looks like, what being blown up in a car bomb is like, so how can they really provide the assistance? But then you sit there in the same class with a fireman who has been on these horrible car crashes, or fires, or police officers that see such terrible things in our community that you begin to understand you don't have to have the same experiences, you just have to have trauma. Trauma is trauma.

Justin Hoover:

As an example, one of the powerful rituals that is done is the ceremony for the dead. Everyone in their life has somebody that they've lost they don't have that closure with. It may be somebody that you've killed, somebody that was killed, a battle buddy. Somebody that you felt you should have saved, or it could be that father, or grandparent, or mother, whoever in your life that you didn't have that closure from, or it could even be the young you that had to die too early to grow up to survive the situations of your childhood. Whatever that is for everyone, you have that opportunity to write a letter and then we through a very solemn ceremony, take them to the fire pit and they have the opportunity to place that letter within the fire and say a few words.

Justin Hoover:

There's a lot of times where there's just anger, or shame, or guilt, regret, whatever that emotion is that you've been holding back that for the first time, for most, they get to really express that and begin to process it through and be supported through that. It's not something that we do to forget those individuals, but those individuals wouldn't want us to live our lives holding on to their loss and keeping it from leading rich, rewarding lives. This is that first step in that opportunity that gives them the permission to begin healing.

Kelly Scanlon:

Once that program concludes what additional support can the participants seek from you?

Justin Hoover:

One of the things that we say from day one is if you came here to be healed in five days, you're in the wrong place because it can't be done. A lot of these traumas are a lifetime in the making and they'll take a long time to really unravel. A big part of that week is just helping you understand what this journey is, what that path and that commitment is to realize that true self that you discover during the week.

Justin Hoover:

We really help support them through that with partnerships and other services that we provide, one of which is the Frontline Therapy Network. We set that up during COVID and it's really a way to take the tools that you learn during the week and help provide the support scaffolding for you to integrate them into your life. It's a network of clinicians that we have vetted to ensure they have the education and the experience to properly serve this population. Then we do an interview with the warrior to match them with the right therapist and then provide them with 6 to 10 free therapy sessions. Again, it really allows them to begin to work those skills into their daily life.

Justin Hoover:

The other aspect that we do as the Next 90 Network, and that is a collection of classes that they were introduced to within the week. Things like yoga, fitness, equine therapy, meditation. Now they have that introduction and the desire to implement those into their lives because they see the benefits and each program is, again, free. It provides a 90-day exploration of that modality. For 90 days, you're integrating into your life, fitness, or meditation or healthier eating. It really provides an avenue where you can make these skills a part of your daily life in a way that really fits your schedule and because it's day 91, that's the important one, right? Are you going to keep doing those skills? You can take those classes and it really allows you to take that two-year journey alongside your other community members, so now you're able to build an organic network of people that understand, that care and are genuine and authentic in their support to help you through the rough patches that are going to come because this isn't easy work. It takes a community to heal, and so that's really what we're working to provide.

Kelly Scanlon:

How did you get involved with The Battle Within?

Justin Hoover:

I got involved with The Battle Within, well, since its founding, but really I started my own journey of healing and about four and a half years ago. It was a very reluctant one. I had been home from the army about 10 years, and had really thought I had stuffed everything down and was handling it quite well. Some things were happening in my life that really brought all that stuff to the surface all at once. I didn't really consciously realize it. It wasn't until my wife really encouraged me to get some help. I was angry that she was having me do that until I sat down in the seat and realized, oh, my God, I'm just like everyone else in this room. Maybe there's something to this. Upon graduation, I just knew I needed these people around me to really continue on that path myself.

Justin Hoover:

I was very fortunate as we founded The Battle Within to be able to do that and realize that not everyone has the same ability I do to really pour themselves into it because we have jobs, we have families, we have education that we're pursuing, all these avenues. That really led to how do we build a support system that can interact with people within their lives, so they don't have to take a six month sabbatical or two years away to really heal? How can we integrate it into their lives? A lot of that came back to, well, how do we build a community of people that care for each other? Very proud of what we've accomplished thus far. It's not just the warrior community, it's the community at large that is very supportive of this effort.

Justin Hoover:

I think that's important for our warriors to know because you begin to feel that nobody really understands, nobody really cares, and you're not really worth it. That's so far from the case. We're so fortunate in the support that we've had from community leaders, celebrities, businesses, Lamar Hunt Jr. from the Chiefs, Mitch Holtis from the Chiefs. We've had out to our wiffle ball games, some of the draft picks from the last years. The Royals have been big supporters, Joe Goldberg, Rex Hudler, Ian Kennedy, Wade Davis. I mean, there's just so many that we're very fortunate because that really helps highlight what our warriors are going to and gives people an idea of how they can help. It's such rewarding work because there is just such a gap between what the public knows of our warriors and what our warriors perceived our public to know or care about.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned that it takes a large community, more than the people who are a part of the five-day program, more than the national support system that you've put in place. How can all of us as members of that larger community assist with this healing?

Justin Hoover:

I think it really starts with asking the hard question of are you okay? We are really good as a society of asking are you good? Particularly, here in the Midwest, we're really good at saying I'm fine and then asking about the weather, right?

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes.

Justin Hoover:

We're not good at asking if we're okay. I think that's really important now more than ever with COVID, with just all the stressors of the last year, but people are still battling and particularly our warriors. They are selfless servants and it's going to take time to honestly answer that. It's going to take asking more than once and so I think that that's a great first step that anyone can do. It doesn't have to just be warriors. We should be better about doing it to everyone in our lives.

Justin Hoover:

The second is really supporting those programs that provide the healing and the support that they need, and really showing that in a public way. I mean, that's one of the good things social media is good for. Showing that support in a genuine, authentic way, helps people realize that they can take advantage of it, that it's there for them. Sharing those stories of vulnerability of those in your life that have struggled with mental health or yourself that has struggled with mental health, I think are all great opportunities to really change the stigma and help our warriors realize that they are deserving of healing, and that there are opportunities for them to do that.

Kelly Scanlon:

What has been the impact of the program?

Justin Hoover:

It's been really powerful and rewarding to watch as we've really been able to graduate over 168 warriors in the last two years. We've had 230 warriors come through the Frontline Therapy Network since March of last year when COVID started. I think the biggest one is the 16,000 plus hours that our warriors have provided of peer mentorship to those brothers and sisters that are still in need. That's the true power of our programs, is showing each other there is hope because many of these folks are hopeless. When they sit down on the seats on Monday, I'm always startled by how many tell us after the program that they just really waiting for this to fail them like other therapies and programs had failed them before. They're at the end of their rope. We've had far too many people say, if this didn't work, I was ready to end my life that Friday or that next day on Saturday.

Kelly Scanlon:

Wow.

Justin Hoover:

To see them continue working so hard on themselves and to give back so selflessly to those brothers and sisters still in need is honestly the most rewarding part of this job because those are families that would have been utterly destroyed and now they are thriving again. Just to see the hope on their face and the joy on their face, that they did not create a permanent solution out of a temporary problem and where their lives are now, it's just so powerful.

Kelly Scanlon:

What ways, specifically, can our listeners engage with The Battle Within, the organization itself?

Justin Hoover:

If they would like to go into TheBattleWithin.org and they can see testimonials from warriors that have gone through the program, learn more about what the week is like. Obviously, we are funded through individuals' and corporations' donations, so there's the opportunity to do that. This is a long path of healing and these are the people that answer the call when crisis happens. This is an opportunity to show them that you're there to answer the call in their moment of crisis.

Kelly Scanlon:

Justin, thank you for your service to our country and thank you for continuing service to our veterans and our first responders. We appreciate you being with us on this episode of Banking on Kansas City to talk with us about The Battle Within.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Justin Hoover for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. We thank you and all veterans and first responders for your service to our country and for answering the call in times of crisis. Most of us do not truly understand the traumatic burdens that our veterans and first responders bear, and that it takes a community for full healing to occur. Organizations like The Battle Within are instrumental in creating programs and a support network, but each of us in the larger community can play a role too. We each have an opportunity to show our veterans and first responders that we're here to answer the call during their moments of crisis. As Justin said, it really starts with asking, are you okay? Then asking it again and again, if necessary. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.