Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 6
The Bridge Builders: Working to Reduce the Civilian-Military Divide
Road Home Program Outreach Coordinator Ramon Prieto, a 26-year Army career veteran, shares why he’s actively working in his community to build relationships and close the gap between the veteran-military community and our fellow citizens.
Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director at The Road Home Program at Rush: Good day, everybody. I’m Will Beiersdorf, the Executive Director of the Road Home Program here at Rush, and today, we are highlighting another podcast, The Road Home Podcast, and with me is one of our Outreach Coordinators, Veteran Outreach Coordinators, Ray Pietro? Is, Ray, did I, did I say your name right?
Ramon Prieto, Outreach Coordinator at The Road Home Program at Rush: Prieto.
Will Beiersdorf: Ramon?
Ramon Prieto: Ramon, yeah. You know, and that’s the other thing. Just want to clarify that, you know, I go by Ramon, by people close to me, call me Ray, but for the professional purposes in the community, and to maintain that, you know, that connection to those various groups, right? I use that first name. So yeah, it’s Ramon, but Ray is fine for folks that struggle with two-syllable words.
Will Beiersdorf: You got it. All right.
Ramon Prieto: Gracias, Senor.
Will Beiersdorf: It’s Ramon, you got it. So hey, I just want to again, Ramon, I want to thank you, again, for taking the time to sit down with me and share with our audience and our community what we do here at the Road Home Program at Rush. And again, for folks, just joining us, again, it’s the Road Home Podcast, in this is, we have these segments kind of sharing with folks, what we do here at the Road Home Program. Our primary focus is helping men and women who have served in the military, whether in the past, currently, and also to kind of set the tone for maybe future generations. But we help those individuals who might be battling what we call the invisible wounds of war in life. Everyone’s heard of, I would assume, or maybe if you haven’t, you’ve heard of situations with individuals that have had certain traumas, whether in their service or maybe in life, and we call it here, PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And we also treat men and women who’ve had traumatic brain injuries, TBI. And we also help and support those individuals, both men, and women, around military sexual trauma. So there’s other things that we support here. And the other thing is, folks who are listening to this podcast, it’s not just the veteran or a service member that we treat in support, but it’s also the family. So, we do work with family members, as well. So, so it’s a great organization that we’ve developed here over the last seven years and, and again, Ramon’s part of our, we call our Veteran Outreach Team. I like to call them our bridge builders. You know, you’re, Ramon and the others are part of this bridge-building concept of, you know, building relationships and connecting those folks that need our service. So, so, sir, so Ramon, so tell us a little bit about yourself. And again, thanks for taking time to talk with us on the Road Home Podcast.
Ramon Prieto: Thank you very much, Will, I appreciate the invitation. It’s my pleasure and honor to be here. This morning, this afternoon, wherever, whatever time of the day, you’re listening to this podcast, and I will say this, this is my very first podcast, so I’m looking forward to just sharing some of my story and how I’m working with the Road Home team to help our veterans and service members heal from those invisible wounds. But just briefly a little bit about myself. I’m a native Chicagoan. I grew up on the south side of Chicago in the Archer Heights neighborhood. And went to Chicago Public Schools, my entire youth, K through 12. So I’m a proud Chicago Public School alum. We were a regular working-class family growing up in a neighborhood. Not a lot of resources. You know, I kind of say we’re a middle class, poor type of thing and my family worked hard to, you know, make sure that I was on the right path to the success of the future. I give my ma a lot of credit because like a lot of working mothers and single parents, she was a big part of my success moving forward in life. She set the standards. So, my journey to the Road Home started off back in, after high school. You know, I was, like a lot of folks, I was struggling trying to identify my pathway to the future and I had a chance encounter one day with a National Guard soldier and just had some good, good conversation about the opportunities within the National Guard. So, I, I took the plunge and I enlisted in the Army National Guard to start my Army career as a, as a opportunity to serve but also continue developing myself and growth moving forward to my, pursuing my goals. That, that experience lasted for about a year and a half. I got a little tired of being in Chicago. I got tired of being in a certain environment and I saw some opportunities and took the opportunity to enlist in the regular Army in 1985. Enlisted in regular Army in ’85 and went over to Germany. Served a tour in Germany, long tour 30 months, returned to the States. Went to airborne school and a couple other trainings and I separated from service. I did separate from service early in my career in 1989. I took the plunge and headed back to the private sector. So I’ve been through the transition process before the life that followed my initial enlistment and regular Army. I went ahead and re-enlisted about 10 months after separating from the service in October of ’89. And I found the right woman in my life. Long story short I decided to re-enlist to move back to Germany to reunite with my fiancée at the time and, and yeah, so here we are about 30 years later. I served 26 years of active federal service with the United States Army. Numerous overseas deployments. A bunch of stateside duty stations. A lot of good experiences. You know, I started off as a young soldier, as a private and I eventually retired as a first sergeant. Proud of my, proud of my experiences and time in service. I did a lot of different things. I started off my career as a Information Systems Operator, data processing back in the day, and I transitioned and changed careers into the military intelligence community, I became a counterintelligence soldier, which, you know, allowed me to do a lot of good things for our country in a lot of different ways. So, I served about 18 years as a counterintelligence soldier but during my career, I started moving up and ascending into different leadership positions. And as, as the military community knows, as we ascend, we tend to get away from the workings and the daily duties of interacting with our soldiers, but eventually became a senior enlisted leader. And that position was the kind of culmination of my career and allowed me to be in the weeds and to be there with our soldiers and their families and supporting them to ensure that they can perform their duties to the highest level. So that position was a culmination of my career as a first sergeant. We retired nine years ago, retired from the United States Army. We went through a transition as a family, family unit. And that experience in itself was a unique one for us, as folks go through their transitions and deal with certain situations. We had a good plan. We returned to Chicago. Our plan consisted of I didn’t have a job, we didn’t have a home and I had to find something to take care of my family. So I immediately, you know, hit the streets running, and was fortunate enough to land, I geared my post service career towards higher education, I received a couple of degrees in, in higher education. And that’s where I’ve been concentrating my efforts in the veteran community. Started off University of Chicago on a research project on a grant that we develop a program, a social resilience program for the United States Army. After that, three years, it’s, you can see, there’s a little bit of a three-year tour to this story. After that I served as the Director of National Louis University Veterans and Military Program, which really gave me an insight, great insight to the workings, of the business aspect of the post 911 GI Bill when it comes to higher education. So that was a great learning experience.
Will Beiersdorf: I think that’s when I met you, right? I think you were saying so
Ramon Prieto: I think so. I was out in the community.
Will Beiersdorf: That was several years ago. Yeah, yeah.
Ramon Prieto: That’s correct. That’s correct. Will, you and I pass, we crossed paths numerous times through the years as we, you know, we’re out there in the community, spreading the good news and trying to engage with our veteran and military community. So yeah, that was a great experience. And so that, that three-year tour, well, put me in a situation to some reflection and some re-evaluation. So I took about a year off, after my tour at National Louis to do some assessment and some re-evaluation of where I needed to be and what I would like to contribute moving forward in my life and with my family alongside, of course. And these conversations with folks like Will in the community and other service providers really just attracted me to continue in the community to help others. And this opportunity arose here at the Road Home Program, with conversations through Will and time and place and landed me here. I’ve been here about a year and a half now. And as Will touched on, my duties are to get out there in the community and community engagement and to build relationships and I can honestly say, I’ve landed in the right place. Along with our fellow Outreach Team members and the Road Home team here, the hard work that they do, on behalf of our men and women has really made me feel, well, made me feel better about where we’re moving forward as far as our dealings with mental health, so, that’s a little bit of a snapshot, Will, of who I am and where I’ve come from. But I’m just once again, just honored to be here.
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, and we’re great, grateful to have you. So, you know, you’ve had a long career and a lot of different things. You’ve seen it from, you know, being, you know, from starting from, I believe, when you join, you’re probably you know, you know, what an E-1?
Ramon Prieto: That’s correct, I started as an E-1.
Will Beiersdorf: Right, exactly, so you worked your way up. And so again, you know, I just want to pause for a second. I’m talking with Ramon, Pietro or Pete, say it again?
Ramon Prieto: Prieto. It’s all right.
Will Beiersdorf: And Ramon is part of our Veteran Outreach team here at the Road Home and you’re, and if you’re listening and just jumping on to the to this, this is the Road Home Podcast here at the Road Home Program and again, we help men and women and their families who might be dealing with the invisible wounds of war in life. So, I just want to make sure I remind folks about that. But so Ramon, you’re hitting on these different things. What, so, and I know you and I talked, you know, periodically, I think I first came across you in a rotary meeting, I think it was at some point. I think that was, I think one of the first times, maybe before, but why did you want to come to the Road Home? What brought you here? Other than you heard about it from me. It is a great organization. I mean, we, it’s like a family here. But, but what really was the draw here? I mean, because you were saying that you’d gone through a lot of different things, but what was the ultimate, you know, draw that said, I really want to come here and why? Why the Road Home?
Ramon Prieto: Thank you, Will, and once again, it’s a culmination of things. But after, post-service life’s really brought it home as far as where we’re at, on treating our mental health and how we are trying to help folks with their mental health issues. And I know it’s needed. It’s a much-needed service that we provide here. Once again, my long career exposed me to a lot of different things and the one thing that we struggle with, in the active-duty military, as well as the reserve and the National Guard is, is addressing these, this this issue of mental health. And I feel strongly about it, because, you know, it’s, it’s an uncomfortable subject. And there’s, there’s times that we don’t want to talk about, and I’m sure you were raised in a certain way, and I was raised in certain way, not really talk about these, these issues that we’re struggling with, and, and it’s, it’s now the time. It’s time that we, as a military veteran community, are actually showing others that it’s okay to get help. It’s okay to get treatment and tying into the comparison of a physical injury. When we get injured physically, we have to go to the doctor, you know, to see, get that treatment. Well, those invisible wounds and these invisible injuries are no different. It’s, but it’s not seen and that’s something that folks have a hard time understanding. So, treating mental illness, mental health is a huge proponent of why I came onto the team here. So thank you, Will.
Will Beiersdorf: Great. No, and again, that was part of the reason what, that brought me to, to the Road Home Program, actually come here and actually help start it because, again, not sure if most folks maybe most folks know, but maybe not. If you’re just listening, you know, I’m the Executive Director here and I was actually asked to come here back in 2013 to actually begin this program. So again, I’m not a doctor by any means and, you know, and I’m not a specialist in this field, but I was asked to come here to start a program. And I think the success of our program here, for folks, you know, learning about us is, is that it really comes to our team. You know, our team member has real compassion and desire to serve and so whether it’s the folks at the front desk, or the back desk, you know, Ramon, and the rest of the Veteran Outreach Team, the bridge builders, or even our clinicians who are hearing folks. I mean, people really care, and really want to help. And I think that’s really part of that culture of care that makes a difference. I wanted to ask another question. Again, so, day-to-day things and things that you do, share with folks, kind of, what you work on, and maybe talk about some of our programs. If you just hit upon a little bit of, you know, our outpatient program, because here’s the Road Home Program, we have our outpatient program, but we also have our Intensive Outpatient Program. So, if you could share with people a little bit about our programs. But you know, here are folks, you know, some of the, you know, I guess, some of the things that you actually do day to day here, you know, at the Road Home Program.
Ramon Prieto: Wonderful, Will. Yeah, thank you. And basically, you know, my, our job is to, is to get that word out to the community and engage with our community, the stakeholders, anybody who’s face to face, in the veteran facing community or military members. And then that just, once again, it can go from phone calls, it can go from emails, it can go from regular mailers that once again, we’re trying to get the word out to our community of who we are and what we do. I think a key component to our success is face to face that we can get with the providers in our communities. And one of the areas I’ve concentrated on, Will, I think, when we first spoke, was the those engagements within our local communities so they can understand who we are, specifically, and how we can assist them in their workings, in their daily business in the communities. And that’s been where my efforts have been, is to build these relationships. And it also ties into that civilian-military divide where, you know, we have the 1% who served. Well, what are we doing to, you know, to improve that, increase that number of get more folks interested in service to country? How can we communicate to folks and that all ties into the package of who, what we do in outreach. The more we can get in front of folks and explain our program, share our information, the better understanding is and building those relationships of Oh, by the way, in the event that they do encounter someone who needs the help, they can keep us in mind as a resource and have them seek help at our, with our program. But when it comes to the two-week IOP, Will, matter of fact, we do have a cohort in session at this particular moment, and I’ll be meeting with them later today. It’s an intensive program. It’s two weeks. They arrive here. We house them. We provide transportation. And yes, oh, by the way, we are providing in-person treatment during the COVID crisis. It’s a, I’ve categorized it, it’s a, it’s an all-expenses paid trip to mental wellness, okay. So we will house them, we will fly them in. We will provide everything for them to come, to arrive here ready to receive treatment. And the conversations I’ve had with the veterans through my time here, it’s been a very, very intense program, but they are gaining skills and knowledge that they can take with them and as they move forward back to their homes. And that’s, that’s a huge piece. Once again, we’re providing these skills and this education that they can take with them as they return home. My job as a resource, Outreach Coordinator was to provide resources so that these meetings, resources, when our vets return back to their homes, we want to ensure that continuity of care is there and they continue to move forward. So yeah, I sit down with them, and we try to identify resources that can supplement, augment the training and treatment they received here.
Will Beiersdorf: That’s great. No, yeah. And, and again, what Ray’s, Ray’s hitting on the, again, the Intensive Outpatient Program is a two week, you know, program that helps men and women who are battling PTSD, or also military sexual trauma, we have different cohorts for that. So, so, Ray and the rest of the teamwork with these folks as, kind of, again, helping them with resources and other things. And again, at times may be an advocate. And it’s also nice, that again, they can talk with other veterans and other folks that have served. So, so thank you again for doing that. And again, it’s a really important thing because the IOP really plays a critical role as Ramon has shared with us, is that you hit on the fact that in two weeks, we can see significant progress and outcomes that folks will experience through the, you know, the cognitive processing therapy that they receive, as well as all the other things that they do through wellness, and acupuncture. We all have different things, and everything is done right now, in a very COVID-centric, safe way. So for those folks that want to learn more, you can go to our website at RoadHomeProgram.org, and you can learn more about the Intensive Outpatient Program, or you can also call us at 312-942-8387. That’s 312 942 VETS. So, so, Ramon, so I guess, what would you share with people, why should they, if you know someone who’s battling with these invisible wounds of war is got, you know, PTSD or other, you’re not gonna always know that right? But if there’s a message you can share with them, or even their family members, why the Road Home Program? I mean, we’ve got great resources, great partners at the VA. And we’re in, you know, we partner with them. And there’s other organizations doing great things, you know, but if somebody wants an alternative, or somebody wants to, you know, to consider something else, maybe outside some of those other services, why would they, you know, I guess, what’s the one thing and why the Road Home Program? Why would they want to call and learn about the Road Home Program, either outpatient programming for families and veterans and service members, because we do, be it to take care of folks that are National Guard or Reserves or even active duty, and then also our Intensive Outpatient Program. But would there be one thing, on one message you’d share with them and kind of why, why call the Road Home? Why look into us?
Ramon Prieto: It’s without a doubt, and I can use one of the words from our ICARE values here at Rush University. I’ll use the word excellence. And I use that word excellence, pretty, not very lightly because it’s hard to achieve excellence. But I will tell you that these clinicians in this team here the Road Home Program are top-notch. Once again, understanding that I’ve had an opportunity to observe other installations and organizations. But these folks here care. They truly care. And that impresses me to no end because the majority of our clinicians are, don’t have a military background or non-veteran, but I can guarantee you this, they are there 110% for our men and women. And that in itself, is something that’s huge and near and dear to my heart. To see the dedication of our team and what they do for our men and women is something that is very important that I’d like our public to know that. That’s one of the reasons, that’s actually the key reason that we’re here, you know, is to care for people. But excellence is the word, Will, I would use.
Will Beiersdorf: I like that. It’s part of our values, core values, right? The ICARE values that we that we try to live up, by a part of the foundation of not just the Road Home Program, but also The Rush University Medical Center and the health system in general. So, for folks, you know, hearing that ICARE values, I mean, it represents, you know, basically five, you know, specific values, you know. Innovation, collaboration, accountability, respect, and, as Ramon was just hitting on, excellence, excellence. Excellent. You know, it’s funny, because we talked, I mean, and that’s the thing that I love about the Road Home Program is that we’ve given, we’ve empowered the entire team to really think through and figure out how best to care for these men and women that are coming to us. Because again, they’re not coming to us, it’s not, it’s not like a, you know, a manufacturing process or something, you know, or even like, within healthcare, it’s not like you’re coming for, like, you know, a problem with your knee or problem with your elbow or some other ailment or other issues but we’re talking about, and Ramon, you hit on this on mental health, right? And those challenges, those traumas that men and women face, you can’t see. And so we have to really make sure that everybody’s in sync, you know, with being thoughtful and respectful, you know, holding ourselves accountable, right? And make sure we deliver what we say we’re going to do, trying to think through how to better connect with folks, because it’s hard. I think you’ll admit, it’s hard to get folks to come in for this. I mean, this is, like you said earlier, this is a topic that we don’t usually like to talk about, because it’s an unseen situation, right? Because you can look at somebody say, “Wow, they look fine. Ray, you know, Ramon, Will, Chris, all the other folks that, they all look fine.” But you don’t know. Right? You don’t know. So you don’t know what challenges they face. And so those values really resonate. You know, the other thing I want to hit on, and we’re going to have another podcast to hit on another area around our, you know, our chaplain in our, you know, basically Chaps, you know, is you know, he’s Mark Schimmelpfennig. He’s our chaplain here. So not just talking about, you know, the things going on in the mind, but also, you know, being able to connect with folks, you know, what’s going on in your hearts or within your soul. And so, there’ll be a future podcast coming up to talk with Chaps and about that and talk about, you know, an area of this, we’re doing a lot of research around moral injury. So, that’s for another podcast to come out. But, but Ramon, you hit on some things. Is there, as we wrap up here, is there anything else you want to share with folks any other information or other thoughts? You know, again, talking to it could be someone for the first time learning about the Road Home Program, but is there anything else you’d like to share or impart to folks whether it’s a veteran service member or family member?
Ramon Prieto: Certainly, Will. It’s all about getting our folks healed and it doesn’t show a sign of weakness to seek help. It shows a sign of strength. And that’s my message to folks. It takes a huge amount of moral courage, personal courage, to step up and to ask for help, specifically within when it comes to mental health. So my message straight and simple, is we’re here for you, we understand you, and we want to help you. And that’s, that’s a pretty straightforward message, Will, so you know, it’s, it’s here, we’re here for them.
Will Beiersdorf: And that’s the bottom line, I think that is the bottom line, we’re here. Because here’s the other thing, too. What Road Home provides, sometimes isn’t always the right thing, you know, for these folks that are looking for care. So that’s why we have strong partnerships with the VA, with other veterans service organizations. Again, we’re really part of a team, we’re part of a collaboration in the community. And it may be sometimes, it might not necessarily be something around, you know, their mental health, it could be other issues that they’re challenged with. And that’s the other thing I just want to leave with folks as you, as we wrap up here, regardless, you know, I didn’t say this in the beginning. But regardless of your, doesn’t matter the branch you served, doesn’t matter when you served, of course, we have got an incredible emphasis, you know, on the post 9/11 vets but we also serve what I call the pre 9/11, the Vietnam War, vets and others. So, all are welcome basically, regardless, you know, of your ability to pay, regardless of the insurance, all the other different things. Also, here’s the other thing – regardless of your discharge status. There are times we have to, you know, we have individuals who have either dishonorable or less than honorable, right? So we really try to see what we can do for those folks. I mean, we don’t, we don’t, if someone knocks on our door, we want to try to open it and try to help them and that’s what I like about Ramon, and the whole Veteran Outreach Team is that we try to take, you know, one veteran, one service member, one family member at a time to see what we can do. So we really tried to reduce those barriers to care. And I think that’s another attribute that’s really strong. Again, and it goes back to the value what I call accountability. When a, when a man or woman or any individual puts that uniform on, you know, regardless of what happens, they, we kind of owe it to them and we’re responsible for them and so we need to make sure we treat them well, whether they serve one day, or, you know, again, in your, in your case, Ramon, was it how many years again did you serve?
Ramon Prieto: 28 years.
Will Beiersdorf: 28. So, you know, there’s some folks that have served 38. You know, and again, so we want to make sure that door is open to everybody. So, so again, thank you, again, Ramon, for your time today. This is the Road Home Podcast and we’re talking with Ramon about, about the Veteran Outreach in the things that he does and you’ll be introduced to the rest of the team at some point on future podcasts. But again, thanks, Ramon. I appreciate your time today, here on the Road Home Podcast.
Ramon Prieto: Thank you, Will. Thank you for having me today.
Will Beiersdorf: You’re welcome. And again, if you want to learn more about the Road Home Program here at Rush, you can basically either, there are a couple things. We’re on Facebook. We’ve got the website at Road Home Program, that’s all one-word roadhomeprogram.org or you can call us at 312 942 8387, 312 942 8387. Or we also say 942 VETS V-E-T-S. So again, Ramon, thank you again. And again, folks, thanks for listening to us today and have a great and safe day. And again, thank you for taking time to learn more about the Road Home Program here at Rush.
About Road Home Program: The Podcast
Veterans have served our country, now it’s our turn to serve them. Road Home’s Will Beiersdorf talks with veterans and their families about their journeys transitioning to civilian life. During every episode you’ll hear from subject matter experts, like Rush clinicians, staff and community partners, discussing resources and services available to veterans to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war. Subscribe, download, or listen to other Road Home Program podcast episodes.
The Road Home Program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, service members, and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status. If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (312) 942-8387 (VETS) or fill out the Get Care form.