VA North Texas Health Care System
Summer Camp Helps Veterans with Integration and Independence
Each year, from the beginning of June until the end of August, Veterans enrolled at our Veterans Recovery Center (VRC) enjoy a summer full of activities that offer fun and learning. The VRC summer camp has proven to help Veterans with both society integration and independent living.
All of the activities are facilitated in groups Monday through Friday and include movies, healthy living classes and sessions for music, acting and creative writing. Veterans also have classes on building and maintaining healthy relationships and they go on field trips as well.
Summer camp helps Veterans with a range of life skills that include:
- self expression
- social etiquette
- community integration
When the group goes on field trips, they use Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), the city's public rail transportation system. The program, called DARTAround, promotes independence and accountability. Veterans voluntarily enroll and agree to use their own money to purchase DART tickets and pay for any expenses incurred on trips. The outings include visiting downtown cities, malls, restaurants and movies.
Army Veteran Billy Jones has been in the summer program for five years. He said he likes hanging out with his Veteran buddies, doing things he wouldn’t ordinarily do on his own. "It keeps me busy, active and motivated about reaching my goals," he said.
Billy moved to Texas after living in California for more than 30 years. "I used public transportation there," he said, "but when this program started I was happy because it helped me learn about my new city." DARTAround assisted Billy with his transition and he was also able to make new friends.
VA social worker Donna McCollum, LMSW, started the DARTAround program three years ago as a way to help Veterans in their recovery. The program is beneficial for Veterans who live alone or with someone else. Some Veterans have family members who drive them to their destinations, but the same Veterans can enroll in summer camp to learn how to travel on their own.
When brainstorming on what the benefits a program like DARTAround could provide, Donna immediately thought Veterans will not only be able to improve their quality of life by operating independently in the city, but their social skills would improve as well. "When someone is driving alone in their car, they don't get to interact with others," she said. "Public transportation forces us to be more interactive with others and observant of our surroundings."
Donna said the outings are fun, but the best part is the outcome. "To see the Veterans in action is heartwarming," she said. "Once we realized the impact of what something as simple as a train ride could provide, we knew we were on to something." Some Veterans wouldn't go on trips and learn the city on their own. "But, because they're in the company of friends on a similar path, they are motivated to do well," she said.
And that's all that matters.
The VRC continues to provide creative ways to help Veterans with mental health recovery. Not all Veterans with mental health issues are referred to VRC, but for those who are, the benefit is evident.
Ask your mental health provider if VRC is right for you.