Blake Schroedter has more than 16 years of military service, including 21 months of overseas deployments, and he hopes to help fellow military personnel and their families with what he describes as their “invisible wounds.”

He wants military members to know that while coming home seems like it would be the easy part of deployment, but in reality transitioning from military to civilian life can be a challenging.

“I certainly had a very difficult time transitioning from my first deployment to Iraq — where we had a 30 percent causality rate in our company — back to a college campus,” said Schroedter. “That was very challenging.”

That's where Effingham's new program, “The Road Home,” comes into play.

Schroedter earned his doctorate from Adler University School of Professional Psychology, with a military emphasis, in 2016. He completed a psychology internship at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and a post-doctoral trauma fellowship at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, in The Road Home Program.

The Newton-native is also a captain and a behavioral health officer with the Illinois Army National Guard.

“My clinical specialty is treating the invisible wounds of war, but I have the skill to treat a variety of behavioral health conditions to include PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, anger, sleep disruption, substance use disorder, and issues related to family stress,” said Schroedter.

Who it serves

Schroedter works to help men and women in Central Illinois who have returned home from the battlefield and military service. The outpatient counseling center for veterans and their families is located at Heartland Human Services, 1200 N. Fourth St., Effingham.

The program was launched locally on Sept. 1. The location in Effingham was selected based on proximity of the region's veterans hospitals.

Veterans from all eras of combat and non-combat are eligible for the free service, funded primarily by the Wounded Warrior Project.

According to its website, the Effingham clinic is open to all veterans, active service members and their families who are struggling with the invisible wounds of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Military Sexual Trauma, Traumatic Brain Injury and other similar conditions.

Family members may include spouses, children, parents, siblings, significant others, close friends and caregivers. Services are offered regardless of length of service, discharge status or ability to pay. Funding primarily comes from the Wounded Warriors program, so there isn't a fee to veterans and their families, regardless of their discharge status.

“The invisible wound is a description of the primary wound that is coming out of current conflicts,” said Schroedter. “This could be PTSD, TBI, or mild TBI, depression, anxiety, moral injury, bereavement, grief, loss. All of these facets of mental health are those that don't have an observable feature to them, such as an amputation or gun shot wound.”

He sees veterans and family members in Effingham, but he also performs evaluations for someone who might need clinical services at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. There a support team of 60 professionals also do assessments, research, evidence based treatment, and more.

“The mentality of military is 'suck it up and drive on',” said Schroedter. “That's what we tell people. But, avoidance is what keeps PTSD festering. So, the belief is if I can just suck it up and drive on, eventually these things won't bother me. But, unfortunately, that's not how it works. We need time to decompress and process these experiences.”

Clients in the Road Home Program are traveling up to two hours away, because the treatment is very specialized for military families.

Learn more at: www.roadhomeprogram.org

Schroedter's background

Schroedter enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard at age 17, and was deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005, where his company had a 30 percent casualty rate during this deployment. His task was to escort American civilians around Iraq.

He worked his way up to a Sergeant First Class before taking a direct commission to Captain. He went on to earn his bachelor's degree in psychology, in 2008, before being deployed again to Afghanistan in 2008-2009, where he was assigned as a combat adviser to train and operate with the Afghanistan National Army focused on being a quick reaction force for the Eastern Province, and disrupting bomb making operations.

“For me, volunteering for deployment to Afghanistan was a way for me to take whatever symptoms I was experiencing and realized they were not fading in civilian environment," said Schroedter. "The only place I knew they would fit was back overseas.”

He found through this experience he gained some decompression time and came back more resilient and wanted to learn more about the human experiences in relation to combat. He went on to complete his doctorate in clinical psychology, or a Psy.D.

Treating the family

The Road Home provides a holistic approach to treating clients that includes assessing needs, meeting the clients where they are on their road to recovery, integrating the family into the treatment to include providing psycho-education or counseling, and offering evidence based treatments that are clinically proven to reduce symptoms, Schroedter said.

“We know that children or spouses (who have a spouse/parent) that has been deployed overseas and come back with PTSD or depression, the family is also likely to experience some kind of behavioral problems," Schroedter. "We know we can't just treat the veteran. It has to be holistic approach. We have to treat the entire family.”

When it comes to children, sometimes they need someone to help them through the absences of a parent, event if it is temporary. For older children, the program offers Tele-Health, which is HIPAA compliant, that allows face-to-face counseling treatment electronically, using a tablet or computer.

Still serving the Illinois National Guard in Mount Vernon, he handles screenings for guardsmen through the Road Home.

Contact Dawn Schabbing at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext 138

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