Local veteran helps others through outdoor activities
Retired Sgt. Josh Hansen knows that firsthand, using skiing and other outdoor activities to help him deal with PTSD and the effects of a traumatic brain injury. Now he’s encouraging other local veterans to turn to those same outlets, working with Wasatch Adaptive Sports and the VA hospital to help those battling with PTSD and depression.
“Vets have an easier time when they have another vet to talk to,” said Hansen. “They think ‘If it helped him, it’s going to help me.’”
Hansen volunteers as the military liaison for Wasatch, a non-profit organization based at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort that gives outdoor opportunities to children and adults with special physical or mental needs. They also work extensively with veterans who have suffered some kind of physical or mental injury.
“A lot of times, the vets themselves won’t contact me,” he said, adding that official registration goes through the George E. Wahlen Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City.
“It’s generally family members who are my biggest referrals,” he continued. “They want the best for their loved one.”
Hansen served two tours in Iraq as an IED hunter before several direct hits caused him to be sent home in 2007 with a traumatic injury to the right side of his brain. He said he suffered with PTSD and depression until he decided to learn to ski at the age of 40.
“I fell a lot,” said Hansen. “But it gave me the chance to get out and enjoy life again.”
As he got better on the slopes, he felt the grip of depression lessen.
“It changes your mindset,” he said. “Winter can be a very depressing time, but when I learned to ski I couldn’t wait for snow.”
Soon, though, he realized there was more he needed to do. He said that he lost six of his soldiers to battle when he was overseas, then lost four more to suicide after they and he had returned to the U.S.
“As a leader, you have to step back and go ‘Wow, I need to be a leader at home,’” he said. “I needed to find a way to help.”
He soon started volunteering with Wasatch Adaptive Sports, offering a vital link to other veterans who are suffering.
“I’ve had phone calls at 2 a.m. from soldiers who want to end their lives,” he said. “We’ve done events together, and they know they can trust me as a fellow veteran.”
Wasatch sponsors several veterans events throughout the year, including ski sessions, bike rides, campouts, snowshoeing, paddleboarding and more. The organization provides helmets and other rental gear for the veterans, as well as providing lunch.
“All the veteran has to do is show up,” Hansen said. “Even then, the VA will often organize events and drive people up the canyon.”
In addition to the physical activity, the events give veterans the chance to connect with others who understand firsthand the struggles of coming home from war.
“Once you get out of the military, you lose that camaraderie you have in combat,” said Hansen. “With this program, vets can get together again. Even if they were in different units, or different wars, they can all relate to each other. They’ll talk to each other and help each other through things.”
These events, and the effect they have on veterans, are starting to become more recognized on a national level. Both Hansen and Laura Cantin of Wasatch Adaptive Sports were invited to ride with George W. Bush in Texas last year, part of a group of 19 veterans who rode with him for the annual event.
Hansen also received recognition from the Davis County Commission for his volunteer efforts, and was asked to talk to representatives from Davis Behavioral Health about suicide prevention.
“Suicide is like the 9th leading cause of death in Davis County, which is horrible,” he said.
Despite the recognition, Hansen feels that the biggest benefit to his volunteering is the direction it’s returned to his own life.
“People join the military to help out other people,” he said. “Once you get out of the military, you lose that purpose.”
If other vets are feeling the same way, Hansen urges them to help local community groups.
“Get out and volunteer,” he said. “It will give you that purpose again.”
For more information on Wasatch Adaptive Sports and how to become involved, call 801-933-2188 or visit wasatchadaptivesports.org. Hansen can also be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 801-243-2508.