Healing Ajax is an innovative, trauma-informed approach to helping veterans reintegrate into society. At Healing Ajax peer support groups, veterans successfully share their experiences and coping skills with their comrades who are going through similar experiences. It’s veterans helping veterans, making sure their brothers and sisters don’t feel alone, giving them a support network, and helping them get the assistance they need through trauma-informed, veteran-to-veteran groups.
Resources for Human Development founded Healing Ajax in 2008 in response to the needs of combat veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over time, Healing Ajax has expanded to welcome veterans of all eras. The program’s name derives from the Greek warrior Ajax, who distinguished himself during battle but was unable to reintegrate into society and eventually committed suicide.
The Healing Ajax peer-to-peer model lends itself to veterans who are dealing with PTSD, depression, or other behavioral health challenges as a consequence of their military service. Core services include initial one-on-one assessments, participation in a weekly psycho-educational group adapted for veterans from the evidence-based Trauma, Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM), and referral to other services, if needed, such as substance abuse treatment and veterans’ benefits.
Healing Ajax is there for veterans who have fallen through the cracks, and who have struggled to access resources through traditional services like the VA. Through its work with the Philadelphia Veterans Court, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health, Healing Ajax has been able to offer a second chance to veterans who otherwise might face jail time for nonviolent crimes that in many cases are a symptom of combat stress issues such as PTSD. Veterans who complete the Healing Ajax program and graduate from Veterans Court have shown a 5.3 percent recidivism rate.
With the support of a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to the Philadelphia City Managing Director’s Office, Healing Ajax has recently added a group for veterans who are in the Philadelphia Prison System. Healing Ajax also is working to expand groups to communities in Northeast Pennsylvania and Allegheny County with a grant from the Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund.
One of the distinguishing features of Healing Ajax is its quick response. Within a week of assessment, often the next day, a veteran referred to the program joins a Healing Ajax group. These psycho-educational groups:
• Are made up of 6-12 members
• Use the nationally-recognized Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM) adapted for veterans – Vet-TREM
• Are co-led by clinicians and veterans trained in the Vet-TREM model • Consist of 24 60-minute sessions provided on a weekly basis
• Are provided at no cost to participants
Healing Ajax director Tom Wagner is a former paratrooper in the U.S. Army. He is trauma-trained and began working with the initial Healing Ajax groups when the program started. Using the Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM) adapted for veterans, Healing Ajax groups focus on topics such as trust, anger, loss, hope, positive problem solving and more.
“We keep the groups real,” Wagner said. “We talk about things that have happened in our past and find support from others who have had similar experiences. One of the founding ideas of Healing Ajax has always been that the groups are completely anonymous. What happens in the group, stays in the group.”
“I’ve gone to a lot of different places for a lot of different treatment. With Healing Ajax, I’ve found a home and a place that really works for me.”
Tim, Iraq war veteran