Vincent Calloway had never ridden on a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) train. In fact, Calloway, a U.S. Army Veteran, hadn’t used any public transportation in many years due to his post traumatic stress.
Through an innovative VA North Texas recreation therapy program, dubbed ‘DART Around’, Veterans like Calloway who are recovering from mental health illness are escorted by a social worker and a recreational therapist to a variety of high-volume public transportation locales and stops around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Throughout the weekly outings, the social worker and recreation therapist work with the Veterans, explaining how to use the public transportation system, key ways to be mindful of their surroundings, and how to interact with the environment around them.
US Navy Veteran Jon Hicks studies a map of downtown Dallas as he and a eleven other Veterans participate in VA North Texas’ ‘DART Around’ recreational therapy program. The ‘DART Around’ therapy program is designed to aid Veterans with serious mental health illness in developing self-confidence and skills needed to function in social settings. Under supervision, the group of a dozen Veterans ventures out each week on the DART to different locations and build social skills with the help of their fellow Veterans.
“This is intended to be a shouldering-event for our Veterans,” said Kim Canova-Romans, VA North Texas recreational therapist. “It’s like breaking down scaffolding–one layer at a time we help them tear down the barriers that keep them isolated and alone.”
The ‘DART Around’ program was developed in 2007 by VA North Texas social worker, Donna McCollum. She found that, due to mental illness, some Veterans could not operate a motor vehicle and were unable to navigate a public transportation system. These Veterans were left with few options, fewer friends, and were on a fast track to depression and isolation.
“Often with severe mental illness. our Veterans find it difficult to interact and move through society, sometimes to the point all they know are the four walls they live in,” said McCollum. “This program helps them build confidence in themselves and the skills they need to escape those four walls.”
The Veterans in the program are encouraged to make connections and interact with fellow Veterans on the outings, share what they’ve learned, how they coped, and enjoy the successes they’ve achieved as part of the program.
“I’m so grateful for this program,” said Calloway. “Sometimes all it takes is another Veteran to help take away the fear and anxiety that goes with learning how to cope.”
Michael Cole is a public affairs specialist with VA North Texas Health Care System.