Dan Solla, a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD, said when he was in full blown crisis mode, time was not a luxury he had.
“The VA has lists that are two months long for vets with PTSD,” said Solla. “I didn’t have time to wait for that. I needed help right then.”
Solla, who now works for the Atlanta Chapter of PTSD Foundation of America helping other combat vets by telling his own story, had spiraled out of control. At his lowest, he said even though he may not have been thinking about putting a gun to his head, “I was doing a lot of self-harm. I didn’t care what happened to me. I was on the road to killing myself that way.”
Duty to devastation
Solla grew up in a military family, and out of a sense of duty to his country signed up to join the Army infantry when he was 17. He spent his 19th birthday in Iraq and more than half his time in service deployed. He reentered the civilian population with no guidance about what to expect, or how to deal with life after seeing first-hand the horrors of war.
“I was exposed to a lot of fire fights and saw a lot for someone my age,” he said. “I came home in 2006, but there was no reintegration. I managed to get in college, but I had a chip on my shoulder about the other students. They had just come from high school and I didn’t feel like understood what I was dealing with. I was avoidant and skittish and had trouble making relationships.”
But it wasn’t until Solla had a career and obligations that his PTSD became unavoidable, a demon he had to face every day. He worked his way through the University of Tennessee, earned a law degree, and landed a good job - but his mental state wouldn’t let him function normally.
“I entered the professional world and saw how much my trauma affected me,” he said. “People notice if you start missing work. In college, you can disappear and people don’t notice. I was too scared to leave my house on days. The VA’s solution was tranquilizers, which I ended up taking 10 times what I should have. I was getting in fights. I’d run out of meds and wasn’t able to cope. I burned a lot of bridges.”
Solla moved to Atlanta hoping a change of scenery would help, but his problems followed him. The VA put him on 100 percent disability for PTSD, which he said made things worse with the intensified isolation.
Then one day last November, when Solla was sitting in the VA waiting room after being told it would be two months to be seen for his PTSD, someone gave him Roger Marshall’s number and said he should give him a call. That’s when Solla’s life turned around.
Combat vets supporting combat vets
Roger Marshall is the head of the newly launched Atlanta Chapter of the PTSD Foundation, a Texas-based organization with a mission to reduce and eliminate suicide among combat veterans. Among other services, the organization sends vets in crisis to their faith-based program at Camp Hope in Houston. The intensive PTSD-recovery program lasts between three to six months and costs nothing for veterans, and nearly everyone who works with the foundation and at Camp Hope are combat veterans. Vets who stay at Camp Hope are given housing, mentoring, counseling and peer support during their stay. The facility serves between 70-80 veterans at a time. In just the last year, the Atlanta chapter has sent 28 veterans to participate in the program – Solla was one of them.
“They had me on a plane in 48 hours getting help,” Solla said. “Initially it was a shock, because the first 30 days you’re cut off from everyone, but that was good for me because I had a lot of toxic relationships. It took me six months to get through the program and now have the amazing support group of combat veterans I can call anytime if I have a bad day. If I would have known about this in 2012 when they opened Camp Hope, it would have saved me a lot of heartache.”
Supporting PTSD vets in Pickens
Pickens County resident Leo Schrader, a combat veteran who served in the Army including a year-long stint in Somalia, heard about Camp Hope and the recent kickoff of the Atlanta Chapter of PTSD Foundation on the radio and he had to help.
“I found out about them and know what good things they do and how many lives they saved and I wanted to do something about it,” he said. “There are so many vets in crisis on the edge, and many are about to make a very bad decision. We want to keep that from happening.”
Schrader organized a motorcycle ride that was held this August, and reached out to the Atlanta chapter and local sponsors and volunteers. Even though the first year drew a modest number of riders, 22 in total, he plans to do it again in hopes of making it bigger and better. The run began at Appalachian Gun & Pawn and ended at Rocco’s Pub, with 100 miles and three “poker run” stops in between.
“Everyone was amazing,” Schrader said. “Roger and others with the Atlanta chapter came and supported the event, and there was just an incredible outpouring in town with sponsors and volunteers when people found out what we were doing. Roger is absolutely amazing. He’s so passionate about this and will drop everything he’s doing to go get his brothers. We want to make this bigger next year to help support their amazing cause, get the word out, and get these vets the help they need.”
Roger Marshall and Dan Solla of the Atlanta Chapter of the PTSD Foundation speaking at Rocco's Pub, the ending stop of a motorcycle run to support vets with PTSD.
If you or a loved one needs support for PTSD, the Atlanta chapter holds “Warrior and Family” support groups every week. They are held Thursday nights at Country Folks restaurant in Cumming, Ga. at 7 p.m.
Vets can also call a 24-hour National PTSD Outreach hotline 1-877-717-PTSD for help and to connect with support in their area. You can also call a crisis hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.