Connecting with Veterans in Need

Harvey MorrisPodcast

Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 4

Veteran and Road Home Program Outreach Coordinator Ashton Kroner shares why the Marines’ classic ‘lava monster’ commercial sparked her interest in joining the Marines, and how the skills she picked up on recruiting duty help her today in finding veterans in need of PTSD treatment.

Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director of The Road Home Program at Rush: Good day, everybody. My name is Will Beiersdorf. And I’m the Executive Director of the Road Home Program. And this is the podcast for the Road Home Program. And I just want to thank everybody for watching, you know, the past podcasts, and again, please, as you learn about us, and you view these podcasts, share them with your friends and peers. There’s a lot of information here and we’re just grateful for the opportunity to kind of share what the Road Home Program is doing. And again, if you’re just joining us for the first time, the Road Home Program is a veteran and family center. And we also take care of active duty and Reserve and National Guardsmen and women. But we’re focused on the invisible wounds of war and life. So we help individuals with PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma, and other traumas that men and women have faced. And we also try to help the families as they try to cope and, and support their loved ones with these challenges that they face. So, if you want to learn more about the Road Home Program, you can go to Road Home Program, that’s all one word dot org ( ). And you can learn more on our website, and I’ll give more information about our Facebook and phone number later. But, again, today, we’re really fortunate to have one of our veteran, combat veteran Outreach Coordinators, Ashton Kroner who is a Marine, first and foremost, we always have to say that, and she is what she’s part of, you know, the team, we call them Veteran and Community Outreach Coordinators, but I call them our bridge builders and relationship builders. So, so Ashton, you know, welcome to the podcast here for the Road Home Program. Thank you, Will. I appreciate you asking me to join you guys. Yes, yes. And we’re grateful again, I’m first of all, grateful that we have you on the team, part of the Road Home family. But could you just take a moment to tell us a little bit about yourself, and you know, your background and what you do here at the Road Home Program.

Ashton Kroner, Outreach Coordinator at The Road Home Program at Rush: Of course. So again, my name is Ashton Kroner. I am an eight-year Marine Corps veteran. I served eight years on active duty. I deployed to Iraq for 10 months, from 2009 to 2010. And then I deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012. My last couple of years in the Marine Corps, I was fortunate to get put on recruiting duty, which gave me all sorts of wonderful skills on public speaking and how to be able to reach, you know, reach others about, you know, organizations and, you know, just to be able to, you know, help reach out to, you know, those that are looking for new experiences, I got out in 2015, my husband and I decided to move back to North Carolina, where we actually initially struggled getting out, you know, getting out into the civilian, civilian population trying to find work, which kind of led me to the Chicagoland area. I was actually headhunted to take up a recruiting role for a medical device company. And that was, I mean, it was, it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. It was a pretty challenging role. I quickly raised up to the director level and I was traveling, like, 90% of the time, not getting to spend any of my time with my family. You know, so it was a, you know, I mean, it was, you know, worthwhile in experience, but it definitely hit the family life a little bit harder than I expected. But then I came to Road Home Program, and I was fortunate to be, you know, a part of a family where, you know, on a professional standpoint, but also on a personal, where they really do take care of, you know, the individual employee along with the veterans, as well. And my job as an Outreach Coordinator. I like to sit there and say that I’m a professional friend maker, you know. So I work, you know, in the veteran population, just educating those that are unaware of our program and connecting them with services.

Will Beiersdorf: That’s great. No, and you do a great job. And I think you just hit upon some key things. But yeah, one of the things I want to take a step back and ask you –  what led you to join the Marines? I mean, why did you, why did you take that step to join the military? Again, I’m a veteran myself. You know, I was in the Army and then also on the Navy side, you know, so I had some incredible experiences and I’m grateful for that. But what, what motivated you to join the military, especially the Marines?  Yeah, it’s actually a funny story, Will. Um, so I was, it actually was right around Christmastime when I was seven years old. I had gotten a new TV and I had stayed up probably way past my bedtime. My mom wasn’t too thrilled when I told her later, but I was watching, you know, some commercials that were kind of coming on and a commercial came on. It was one of the old Marine Corps commercials of the Marine that was climbing the mountain at the very top. They get on top and then they’re in their dress blues with the NCO sword. And I just thought that was really cool. You know, so I started doing research and you know, I just kind of, you know, I knew as a young kid that I wanted to be able to serve my country. Growing up in Texas, you know, we, you know, it’s a small town, you know, in order to be able to really kind of make yourself, you know, stand out, you know, and be able to, you know, do things, a lot of people joined the service. You know, I was taught young to, you know, love your country and you know, be able to continue, you know, continue serving in one way or the other. You know, so I mean, really, it kind of just came down to patriotism. And, you know, being a seven-year-old kid not knowing what I wanted to do in life at first, and then all of a sudden this cool commercial came on, and it really changed my life. That’s great. Yeah. And again, you know, it’s, you know, I think once you got in and you went through it, I’m sure there was difficult times and challenges, we’ve all gone through that. But looking back, it was a great experience. I know, for myself, and again, everybody has different experiences and things. But, and I know you also went through some challenges and some things that, you know, occurred. I mean, you were in Afghanistan, you know. You’re also female, right? So I mean, there’s, there’s so many different challenges. But again, you, you have figured it out and you muddle through it in a typical military fashion, and also from a Marines perspective, because Marines always complete the mission. And that’s one of the things I wanted to ask you is like, before I get into talking about more about Road Home Program, and more of the details of our programming, how did you, how did you come to Road Home Program? How did you find us? Real quickly, I mean, what was that connection? Or what exactly happened, you know, with getting you here? Because again, it’s just always kind of interesting for people to know, like, what brought you here?

Ashton Kroner: Yeah. So, our former manager, he actually met me at a career fair. And this is before he came to the Road Home Program, he was working in recruiting and HR at just Rush Hospital. And he had been trying to recruit me to come work at the hospital for, you know, about a year and I kept on turning them down. And it wasn’t until, oh, gosh, probably like around the springtime that he had mentioned, you know, the Road Home Program. He had told me a little bit about it. And honestly, I didn’t believe him at first that there was a program like this that could exist for, you know, for the veteran community. So whenever he called me up to talk to me about the Outreach position, you know, I kind of had hit a more of a lull at my, at my former company. Like I said, I was traveling about 90% of the time, and he had mentioned that there was still a little bit of travel involved in this role, but you know, we would spend a lot more time at home with my family. And so I decided to give him a, you know, give it a chance. I came in for the interview, you know, and I was kind of blown away with, you know, one – the facility itself, but two – everybody I met, you know, I mean, from the, you know, from the veteran staff to the veterans themselves that were in programming. It was remarkable to see, you know, the, you know, the, just the environment, and, you know, the culture that, you know, the Road Home has fostered. So, it’s, I mean, it was really eye-opening, you know, to me, and it was just night and day difference from where I was coming from, and, you know. It’s like the like, the name says, The Road Home, and I just, I felt immediately at home.

Will Beiersdorf: No, that’s great. And again, that’s the whole, I mean, that was the whole intention as we created this, and also the environment, the culture. And, you know, that brings up one point, you know, because, again, I just want to stop for a second, if you’re just joining us, you know, this is the Road Home Podcast, and again, this is the Road Home Program, we help veterans and family members who are dealing with the invisible wounds of war in life and talking with Ashton Kroner who is one of our combat veteran Outreach Coordinators, and talking about her role and her responsibilities. But you were hitting on something, again, how you felt, and again, that goes back to that culture of care and those values. And at the Road Home Program, you know, when we’re dealing with the invisible wounds of war in life, you know, especially, you know, the traumas that men and women face, and then figuring out how to help families, you know, manage that and kind of support them. You know, those are tough situations. And so it’s really critical to have a good, safe, confidential, you know, caring environment. And it goes back, you know, back to our values and the things that we do. So, you know, you know, our ICARE values here at the Road Home Program, right, Ashton? 

Ashton Kroner: I hope so. (laughs)

Will Beiersdorf: No, but it’s funny, because it’s like I always talk about, we always talk about Mission, Vision, Values. And, you know, some of the core values, you know, we are around innovation, collaboration, accountability, respect, and excellence. And those are the Rush values. And so, they really line up very well with us. But, you know, talk a little bit about the values from your perspective. Is there any one that’s that really stands out, you know, that people should know about? Because I think, when people want to learn more about what we do, and again, coming here is, is sometimes a difficult choice, right? I mean, it’s hard. You don’t want to deal with some of these, some of these, you know, these traumas that you face. So, talk a little bit about some of the values and the things that we, we embrace here and again, you know, what makes us different, you know, and I think this is what it is, right?

Ashton Kroner: No, absolutely. You know, I wouldn’t say that one individual one really sticks out. I think all of them together kind of just really, what, is what makes the Road Home, you know. Because, I mean, I’ve been fortunate to work in a couple of other organizations an they always talk about innovating, and you know, that, you know, they’re, you know, they’re always trying to find new ideas and everything. But here at the Road Home Program, you know, we’re able to, you know, really kind of build on, you know, a foundation. But if it’s not working, you know, we take everybody’s, you know, perspective into account. So if the veteran themselves don’t like a particular portion of their programming, you know, the, the staff actually takes time to be able to listen, you know, to what the veteran is saying, or what the employee is saying, on, you know, how-to, you know, better that circumstance, so it doesn’t happen again. So we want to make sure that everybody is feeling comfortable. You know, and the collaboration, I think, is huge. You know, I know of quite a few organizations that, and nonprofits in general as well, they kind of, you know, tend to reach out to one another, but they’re not sharing, you know, their secret sauce, you know. They’re wanting to, you know, hold on to what makes them unique. And you don’t do that here. You know, we want to be able to share, you know, what works. You know, we don’t want to be the only organization that has the key to success. And I’m not saying that, you know, we have that, but you know, we have a lot of the foundations to be able to make sure that the veterans are, you know, getting, you know, getting care that works for them, so they can continue, you know, continue on home. You know, we work with a lot of community partners. To be able to sit there and share, you know, share stories and share what works and, you know, really kind of work together to make it a, you know, worthwhile experience for everybody involved. And the respect is huge here. I’ve never felt more welcomed before. And like I said, I’ve worked at, you know, organizations where, you know, they say that they respect, you know, their, you know, their employees that were the customers, but I’ve never came into work, and not felt, you know, like, I’m welcome. That, you know, no matter what I say, even if, you know, it’s it goes against the grain, I know that it’s going to be, you know, taken serious, and, you know, we’re going to be able to have a worthwhile discussion on it. So, I mean, I think everything, you know, that we have for our values, really just, I mean, it makes the program. It makes, you know, makes it, you know, the reason why we’re successful in working with the veterans, and you know, why we have such great staff that want to stay here.

Will Beiersdorf: Right? No. Exactly, exactly. And the values really are the foundation of what we do. I mean, you know, the mission and the vision. You know, the mission of, you know, compassionately caring for veterans and their family members who are dealing with the invisible wounds of war in life. Or even our vision of just being champions, you know, for our veterans and their families here in the community. I mean, those are the things but you need to have core values. And so it’s really important. So, you hit on some really good things there. You know, I wanted to just take a moment because, you know, we’re talking about what you do, and all the different things, and we talked about the, you know, about the invisible wounds of war in life, but I want to talk a little bit about the programming. You know, you talked about innovation, and, you know, we do things differently here, but it’s not like it’s like brand new, like it’s like all of a sudden, it’s a brand new concept. I think it goes back to the culture of care and the team. You know, we’ve assembled incredible clinicians and a team from the front desk to the back desk and everywhere in between. But, but it’s critical that, you know, folks here like, what exactly do we do? So, when we first started the Road Home Program, you know, and it’s been over seven years ago, it was a small, really outpatient clinic, basically. So it was serving folks here locally. But as we grew, and as that culture of care, really grew, I mean people heard about us, you know, we have expanded. So now we’ve got an Intensive Outpatient Program. And, again, we’re still, you know, battling this COVID, COVID-19 crisis. It used to be a three-week process. Now it’s down to two weeks, but we’re doing we’re still doing some in person and just trying to balance it out with other types of technology. But, but talk a little bit about and share with folks about, you know, some of our programming, especially the IOP, and some of the, you know, kind of breakout parts of the IOP. The combat PTSD portion, and also talk about Military Sexual Trauma, you know, from your perspective. And again, you know, share from the perspective that, you know, this is someone for the first time that’s hearing about this, or maybe a family member. And, again, what, why should folks that are battling these challenges, you know, consider us?

Ashton Kroner: Absolutely. You know, so the Intensive Outpatient Program, this is actually the program that I was most skeptical about when I first heard about the Road Home Program, because I just didn’t believe that there was a program that was like this out there for veterans that was outside of, you know, the VA. You know, so, really what sets us apart from you know, other, you know, other programs out there is that, you know, as long as, you know, the veteran has served at least one day in service, they’ve donned that uniform at least one day, they’re eligible for services. You know, it does not matter the era served or the discharge status or the ability to be able to pay. All costs are covered, you know, for you know, for this program. Again, as long as, you know, as long as, you know, the veteran, you know, can, you know, show us that they served in that, you know, in some facet of the service. Whether it’s, you know, in the active duty, if they’re currently active duty, they’re in National Guard, if they’re a veteran, it doesn’t matter. You know, we’ll, you know, sit there and open them with welcome our, you know, with welcome arms. So we have two different types of, same type of programming, that’s just two different segments. So we have, you know, a segment for the Military Sexual Trauma, we keep that separate from our what was what we designated as our combat cohort, although veterans that experience, you know, PTSD due to a combat trauma, it doesn’t have to necessarily be combat. It can be like a stateside accident or a hazing incident. But we just, we keep those two, you know, separate, just to make sure that the veteran is comfortable, you know, with sharing their trauma, because Military Sexual Trauma, and, you know, combat experience don’t necessarily resonate with one another. But during the programming, when the veteran comes in there, they’re going to be seen at a separate facility called the Illinois Medical District Guest House. They get their own private room, which I thought was really cool. You know, all the food is provided for them. You know, they have like a rec room for them to be able to hang out and, you know, work with other, you know, work with other veterans just kind of, you know, it’s their nice relaxing place. But when they come to the Road Home Program, they know that they’re going to be getting, you know, challenged and put to work on, you know, working with their traumas. So they receive individual therapy, and they also have group therapy, as well. And we have, you know, a modality for like, the, what is it, like, mindfulness? We have mindfulness-based classes. We have yoga. We even have an acupuncturer that comes on staff as well, and we do art therapy. We also have psychoeducation, you know, to be able to work with the veterans, on, you know, kind of any of the challenges that they’re facing, you know, whenever they go back home. And then we also do case management. So, the Outreach Coordinators, you know, we meet one on one, you know, with the veterans, so, whenever they go back home, they’re set up with success, with resources to be able to continue their journey of healing. And then what really, I think, really sets us apart from, you know, other organizations is that we actually bring the family in, as well. So, currently, we’re doing a two-day workshop for the family members, and it’s how the veteran identifies family. So, it could be a friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, you know, you know, a close neighbor, anybody that, you know, the veteran identifies as a family member that will help them, you know, on their, on their journey home. There is a variable to receive psychoeducation on how to better support them during this journey. And I think that really does kind of hit home with a lot of veterans, because it’s not just, you know, PTSD is a battle. You know, and, you know, just like any other battle, you don’t go at it alone. So, you know, we really bring in those families to be able to, you know, make sure that they’re successful in their journey. And, you know, so that’s, you know, that’s our IOP, you know, and kind of, you know, what’s great about it, is, it’s not just one treatment modality, you know. We have other avenues to be able to, you know, work with, you know, work with that veteran. And then lastly, you know, we also have a chaplain on staff to be able to work on, you know, work on any type of moral injury that goes along, you know, that goes along with that.

Will Beiersdorf: I’m glad you mentioned that. And again, you know, as we talk about these things, again, I just want to make sure you know, if you want to learn more about the programming, you can go to the Or you can also call us at 312-942-8387. Or, you know, that’s basically 312 942 V-E-T-S. But I just want to make sure we also share, too, you know, right now, we’re in the midst of, you know, the COVID, you know, crisis and the challenges are going on, so everything we do, you know, we’re doing, you know, with all the precautions and everything in, you know, in regards to the to the family work we do we have put a pause on that, you know, but as, Ashton said, I mean, you know, we still have those conversations and share maybe in a virtual way to kind of get that information out to them. So, so all these things continue on, and we’re doing a great job. And, you know, really, the thing, the other thing I wanted to say is about the chaplain program is like, you know, Chaps – you know, Mark Schimmelpfennig. It’s so funny, because he always likes to, he’s, I go, “Hey, Mark!” He goes, “I’m Chaps.” I go, “Okay.” You know, it’s like a “Seinfeld” episode. You know, this is The Maestro, you know. It’s like, you know, and we kid about that. But he’s very serious about, you know, not just, you know, the therapies and things we do, but also, you know, tell me about your heart, what’s going on your soul, I mean, the other types of things. He tries to, kind of, you know, reach them from that perspective. So it’s really, it’s really important to have that, and I’m glad we can offer that. But, but again, as you said, Ashton, so regardless of your discharge status, regardless of how long you serve, you know, all these different things. I mean, we truly reduce the barriers to get folks in, whether it’s into our outpatient programming, or even into the Intensive Outpatient Program, which we always refer to as the IOP. So, you know, I just wanted to ask a couple more questions again. You know, one other thing is, you know, as we’re talking through all this, I mean, is there one message? Is there something that you could share with someone, again, for the first time listening to this and hearing about this whether family or veteran or whatever, you know, is there, is there something? I mean, again, what would you tell folks about this program? And then also, why would they, why would they consider us? You know, again, and I, I know we hit on this, but I just want to make sure that message gets across the folks. So what would you tell folks, you know, as we’ve talked through all these things, you know, what is it, you know? And why, why the Road Home Program?

Ashton Kroner: You know, I’ve never been a part of a program that, you know, will literally reduce all barriers, any excuse that a veteran will come up with on why they can’t get mental health treatment. You know, you know, we partner with a lot of organizations, you know, to make sure that, you know, if you’re battling PTSD, or really any of those invisible wounds of war, you know, we’ll work with you to ensure that you’ll be able to stay with that, you know, stay with us for two weeks without worry. Which means we’ll partner with an organization to be able to, you know, help pay, you know, pay for some of those bills that you may not be able to, you know, do without that income of your job, you know. So we’ll be able to work with you, you know, to ensure that your focus whenever you’re here is truly to focus on mental health. On your own well being and not those external factors that can, you know, contribute you to, you know, worrying about other things. You know, really, when you’re with us, your focus is on your own treatment. You know, there’s not very many programs that are out there like the Road Home Program, unfortunately. And I do think that, you know, the biggest message, the biggest key takeaway is that, you know, if you’re looking for, you know, mental health treatment, you know, you’ll come to the Road Home Program, and you know you’ll be welcomed, and you’ll be taken seriously. All of your concerns, you know, are going to be met with, you know, I can’t say that we’ll be able to fix 100% of all of your, you know, problems. If you’re, you know, you know, needing some extra, you know, like extra financial data or anything like that, we’ll be able to work with you to make it manageable. So you can come here, and really, again, you know, that that focuses on you know, you and how to better your circumstance, so we can have a better tomorrow.

Will Beiersdorf: I think that’s a, that’s a great message. Because, again, we really tried to reduce those barriers, and really ask the question, how can we help you? What do you need? What can we do to connect, you build that bridge, so that you can take advantage of the great services? And again, I, you know, you know, you had said before, in battling these challenges, these traumas, you know, these invisible wounds of whether it’s war or life, it takes a team and so we’ve assembled again, is, you know, as we’ve talked about is, you know, as Ashton said, you know, a great team. So, from the time you call in, you know, when you talk with someone at the phone, you know, the front desk, or all the processes, the intakes, the clinicians, all the things, everybody is pretty much on the same base here. You know, the same foundation. You know, and, and making sure that we’re listening, we’re understanding and just make sure that you’re fit. Because I think as you said, Ashton, maybe sometimes Road Home isn’t the right program for you, right? There might be some situations. So we try to figure that out. And if we can’t, you know, help here, then we try to navigate to other services. And I think you and the rest of the Outreach team have done incredible job building relationships with our VAs, and other, you know, veteran service organizations, so that, you know, if we can’t help the veteran or the family member here, we can get help in another program or somewhere else. And we don’t want anybody to fall through the cracks. And we don’t want to leave anybody behind. So, you know, as we wrap up here, again, I want to thank you for your time. Today, we’re talking with Ashton Kroner who is combat veteran Outreach Coordinator here at the Road Home Program at Rush and we were talking about our different programming and but I wanted to ask, is there any other thoughts, as we kind of wrap up here that you’d like to share? Or comments that you’d like to make, you know, to the folks that might be watching and viewing this particular podcast?

Ashton Kroner: You know, I do want to mention just one last thing is that a lot of the staff here, I mean, they’re their focus is on, you know, veteran treatment. So we have years of experience working, you know, just straight with the veteran population. If the veteran themselves or, sorry, if we’re not veterans ourselves, that you’re that you’re working with, you’re usually talking with either a veteran family member or somebody with years of experience working within the veteran community. So they understand, you know, the acronyms and, or if they don’t, you know, they know how to be able to sit there and go to somebody to make sure that they’re really understanding, you know, you as the veteran coming in for, you know, programming. You know, which I think is really unique. You know, our Outreach team, you know, each of us have our own, you know, our own story to be able to make ourselves relatable to that in the community. I myself am a combat veteran. We have, you know, other veterans on staff as well. We have a Gold Star Mother, as well, you know, so we can, you know, be able to reach out to anybody in the veteran community, whether your family or you’re a veteran themselves, or active duty, you know, and really make you feel, you know, at home and welcome, and that you can relate to somebody. And it doesn’t just end with us, it continues all the way up to, you know, the clinical team, the administrative team. I mean, it’s, it’s all over the organization.

Will Beiersdorf: Exactly. No. Well said, well said. Well, again, thank you, Ashton. And again, the Road Home Program, you know,, if you want to learn more, you can check us out on Facebook. You can also call us at 312-942-8387 or 942 VETS, so if you want to call learn more. And again, you know, Ashton is part of a team of, you know, coordinators, Outreach Coordinators, you know, again, as you said, we’ve got someone on staff who is a Gold Star Mother. You know, we’ve got combat veterans, and you know, we’ve got other individuals, you know, here to help and support through that process. And we’ll be talking with other members of the team, you know, as we go on. But again, Ashton, I just want to thank you again, for everything you’ve done, your service. I mean, it’s been, it’s been a great honor to have you part of the Road Home family, and we’re just honored that, you know, because, again, you know, you also have the passion, too. I mean, you’re constantly on calls and doing things, not just, it’s just not a nine to five gig, either. I mean, you’re, I know, and I always tell you family life, you know, so, you know, balance, right? You know, family work life balance, you know? And we try to do that here. But you’re very committed, like the rest of the team, and like everybody else is here. I mean, we want to make sure that nobody, nobody falls behind. No one falls through the cracks. And that we, you know, let people know that, you know, we’re here, not just to provide care, but because we care. You know, and we’re looking out for your best interests, whether you’re a pre or even post 9/11 vet, or if you’re a family member. Heck, how many times do we take care of family members, Ashton, before the veteran even comes in? I think that’s one thing we got to make sure is, like, if there’s a family member listening, you can get care, you can call us and talk to us so we can figure something out. Even before you know, your, your current service member serving or your loved one or veteran that has served would come in. I mean, again, it’s, you know, it’s the veteran and the family. You know, we treat both. So.

Ashton Kroner: Absolutely.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah. All right, Ashton. Thanks again. And thanks again, everybody for taking time to listen and learn more about the Road Home Program on the Road Home Podcast here. Have a great day. Thank you. 

Ashton Kroner: Bye.


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.