At the end of September, National Recovery Month, Highland Rivers Health hosted a special event for our veterans. Called Operation Gratitude, the virtual celebration — held like so many things these days on Zoom — allowed veterans who receive services from our agency to interact, learn about our plans for a veteran-focused recovery center, and have the camaraderie and support of others who understand their unique challenges and experiences.

While Operation Gratitude featured many memorable moments, the highlight of the event was the unvarnished and honest personal stories shared by two veterans who receive services from Highland Rivers — of their experiences in the military, in combat, of their lingering struggles and, most compellingly, their journeys to living in recovery. A video of the event can be viewed on the Facebook pages of Highland Rivers Health, the Highland Rivers Foundation and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

I want to thank, again, the donors and sponsors that made Operation Gratitude possible: the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, Highland Rivers Foundation, Forever We, Inc., Home Depot, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, and Extremely Clean Floor Services, as well as the hardworking Highland Rivers staff that put this event together.

I wanted to write about Operation Gratitude not because I believe Highland Rivers deserves any special recognition for such an event, but rather because I think our veterans deserve special recognition – and Operation Gratitude is one of the ways our agency recognizes the veterans that trust us to walk beside them on their recovery journey. As we recognize Veterans Day November 11, I want to reiterate Highland Rivers’ commitment to ensuring veterans know we are proud to serve them, and that we have services specifically tailored to their needs.

To begin, if you visit our website or see any of our print materials, the description of our agency specifically lists veterans as among those we serve: children and adolescents, adults, families and veterans. We do this to make sure veterans – and those who might have a loved one who is a veteran – know they are always welcome at Highland Rivers Health.

As one of the largest Community Service Boards in Georgia, we are also one of the largest providers of behavioral health services to veterans in Georgia; we have partnered with the Atlanta VA Medical Center for many years. We also partner with the Cherokee Veterans Treatment Court to provide mental health and substance use treatment to veterans who are charged with criminal offenses but are eligible for diversionary treatment.

Highland Rivers has worked to tailor our services to the unique needs of veterans as well.

We provide a variety of services specifically for veterans, including outpatient counseling for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), prolonged exposure and military sexual abuse. We also offer PTSD and veteran peer support groups, so veterans can learn from others who have had similar experiences and can relate to their challenges.

In addition, Highland Rivers provides crisis intervention and stabilization, veteran-specific supportive housing assistance, supported employment, substance use treatment and community support services, among other programs.

Finally, Highland Rivers is proud to have as our Veterans Services Coordinator Rick Twist. Rick is an Iraq combat veteran who has experienced homelessness, combat trauma and lives in recovery with PTSD and a substance use disorder.

He is a certified peer specialist and runs several of Highland Rivers’ veterans groups. When he says he understands how veterans feel and the challenges they face, it’s because he knows firsthand. He puts his heart into his work at Highland Rivers — and our agency and the veterans he works with are better for it.

In closing, I want to thank all of America’s veterans for their work, their sacrifice and their commitment; Highland Rivers Health is proud to serve you. Our doors are always open to you as you further your recovery journey, and know that, “we’ve got your six.”

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of Northwest Georgia.

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