Veterans offer their peers therapy on three wheels
Zooming around the parking lot of Utah Trikes in 2013 — she on a standard recumbent three-wheel bicycle, he in a “bullet,” the pod-encased version — Kelley and Peter Guidry were grinning ear-to-ear for the first time in years. Both U.S. Air Force veterans, they’d been struggling for years with physical and psychological injuries suffered during their military service. But the trikes reawakened some of the strength and independence that they thought they’d lost.
“We felt like kids,” Kelley says, “like when we first met in our 20s, because we were at our physical peak then.”
Peter adds, “It was amazing to get mobility back. I walk with a cane, so I couldn’t believe I was physically able to ride with those bikes. The fact that it’s recumbent means I don’t have to hold myself up or balance, and it was an incredibly freeing feeling. … I felt like I was alive again for the first time after being in prison.”
Call it cycle-therapy. The mental-health community increasingly recognizes the effectiveness of alternative treatments, including exercise, for anxiety and depression, but even after the War-Related Illness and Studies Center prescribed a tricycle for Peter, the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System couldn’t provide the customized equipment, which starts at around $2,500 and can cost as much as $15,000. So the Guidrys took out a loan and got the trikes on their own. Kelley says she could immediately see the difference it made in Peter’s mood and sleep patterns.
But the Guidrys weren’t content just feeling better themselves; they wanted to share their discovery. They rode in the 2013 Veterans Day parade, and Peter’s bullet got a lot of attention. So they formed a 501(c)3 corporation, Forgotten Not Gone, whose mission is “to help save veterans and their families from the destruction of suicide.” They’ve acquired nine recumbent bikes, seven adult-sized and two for kids, and offer vets the chance to ride them for free with family members and fellow former soldiers whenever they feel like it. Kelley and Peter also lead group rides Downtown on Saturday nights and occasional outings to Lake Mead and Red Rock.
The local need for such services is immense. In Nevada, 46 out of every 100,000 veterans dies from suicide, a rate 74 percent higher than the national average of 12 deaths per 100,000 veterans, according to a state health and human services report released this summer. One Nevada veteran dies from suicide every 2.8 days.
The report was the latest step in a multiyear effort supported by Governor Brian Sandoval to quantify the state’s veteran suicide problem and identify solutions. The Nevada Department of Veterans Services recently began offering online peer-counseling classes that lead to certification as a Nevada Veterans Advocate. All seven student veterans who work in UNLV’s Office of Veteran Services are expected to complete the certification by December.
“Peer-to-peer counseling is really effective,” says Bruno Moya, one of the UNLV student vets who’s currently working toward the certification. “It works much better than having a civilian therapist sit down and talk to you.”