In 2010, as the Director of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Program at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, Dr. Ron Acierno had the only “Best Practices Clinic” in the United States. Even though the veterans participating in this program were leaving with diminished overt PTSD symptoms, they were still suffering from social withdrawal and isolation. Dr. Acierno wanted to find a means to address and treat these lingering social issues, and so, turning to other civic leaders in the community who were themselves veterans, he began to develop the framework for what would eventually become Veterans on Deck.
For veterans suffering from PTSD, interaction is not the only aspect of a social event they wish to avoid, there is also the element of social stress. Dr. Acierno and his new colleagues designed a program where veterans could gather socially, but still be required to participate in an activity which affected a certain amount of social stress. In order for these men and women to be helped, it had to be in the context of a socially stressful situation that could be controlled and ultimately mastered, hopefully with positive social effects. A sailboat was the perfect location to hold these gatherings, and the process of sailing was the ideal stressor; sailing can be a novel activity, is at times stressful, and most importantly, requires working as a team to sail the boat.
Veterans on Deck was officially approved for nonprofit status in the state of South Carolina in 2011, in addition to receiving “community partner” status with the VA. Since then, VoD has connected with several other veteran service organizations in the community and continues to receive referrals from the VA. VoD has extended the scope of participation through community engagement, outreach, and social media.