Meet Dr. Damon!
You commit to yourself, and SOF Missions commits to you. Your healing journey begins with that first call to SOF Missions. As you enter the SOF Missions BE RESILIENT CLINIC, you are embraced in a most extraordinary way. Dr. Friedman has brought together a team of experts just for you; they are steadfast, ready to serve with the intention to explore, identify, and restore your mind, body, and soul. The journey begins with a 5-day intensive clinic, but it does not end there. SOF Missions journeys with you for up to 365 days of follow-up care.
I served 20 years in the military, predominantly in special operations. I was a part of the invasion into Iraq 2003 and had not been able to sleep since. By 2010, I was suffering the repercussions of intense deployments and continuous traumatic experiences. It was all building; sleep deprivation, chronic stress, mild traumatic brain injury, and of course Post Traumatic Stress. The symptoms were overwhelming. There is brain inflammation from all the concussions, along with nausea, headaches, and blurry vision. It doesn’t matter how strong of a man or woman you are; you eventually crack.
My chassis was fractured, and I found myself in a really dark place in 2010. We all hear about the loss of 20+ veterans a day to suicide. Well, I understand why. Everyone has a reason totake too many pills, hang themselves, or use their firearm. For me, the pain was just overwhelming. I wasn’t angry at the world or having moral conflicts. I was just consumed by the physical, mental, and emotional pain and wanted it all to go away.
Yet, through the darkest, deepest depths of my pain I heard an inner voice that said, I have great plans for you, plans to win, to persevere, and not to lose. I heard that I am destined to do something great, but what does that mean? What does it mean to do something great? I made the decision not to kill myself on that night. There were other reasons; I didn’t want my wife or son to walk downstairs and see that mess. It was just a lot. It was physical, and it was psychological, social, and spiritual. I had a lot of trauma and didn’t know how to process it.
I went to a doctor, Dr. David LeMay, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, and functional medicine. He works as a consultant for dozens of professional sports teams. He is a man of faith, and helped me to begin my journey of being fit. Not just physically fit, psychologically fit, or socially fit, but spiritually fit. When you experience trauma, it’s processed through different domains: the psychological domain, the physical domain, and the spiritual domain. Throughout my journey, I went through a lot of therapy. I saw psychologists, social workers, physical therapists, acupuncturists, and chiropractors. I saw conditioning coaches, nutritionists, and internal medicine physicians and slowly began to feel better. After a year and a half, I woke up one day and was no longer in the dark. I was in a light, and I felt good again.
Humans are not made to kill; however, it is part of war. When you have extreme terrorist networks putting bombs in schools, killing children, and targeting oppressed people, it has to be stopped. Someone has to do it, and I was called, but there was a cost.
There are implications to war. Millions of men and women have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and experienced some sort of trauma. If you join the military, I would argue that you’ve experienced trauma going through boot camp. It doesn’t matter if you are the tip of the spear on a mission or the support element providing the equipment and supplies; they are both important. In victory, they are part of the process all the way until the mission is complete. It is all a chain, and everyone processes the experience differently, especially the trauma that is involved.
I had deployed again, and while in Afghanistan in 2011, I shared with Dayna, my wife, that I was feeling better. I had found hope, and now, suddenly, I have faith, and it’s restored, strong, and sound. I have cognitive clarity and am sharper physically and socially reintegrated. Dayna and I started our non-profit then, right there in Bagram, Afghanistan. With everything I have been through and learned, we now apply and provide for all of our warriors at SOF Missions.
Stress is absorbed. It is processed differently by different people. I’ve had a lot of stress, and I’ve had a lot of trauma throughout my whole life. And so, for me, I’m doing maintenance. In our program, not everyone walks away without suicidal ideation. Do I still think about suicide? The answer is every once in a while because this life is filled with trauma, and I am human. Every year I am reminded at least a dozen times throughout the year somebody I love, somebody that I trust has passed away. They have killed themselves, been blown up, or something bad has happened. It’s a constant reminder. It reminds me of why I’m here.
This is my calling.
When I was a young boy, I was called to be a freedom fighter. I began fighting for my freedom in downtown Los Angeles in the projects in an extremely abusive environment. As a young man, I was called to be a freedom fighter for my nation and to fight extreme terrorism. That’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years. I have fought the worst people in the world, evil and vile. And now, today, I have a new enemy and a new mission. I’m still a freedom fighter. My calling is the same, but now I am fighting against one of the greatest evils of all time, suicide. Suicide is an evil that nobody can see.
Today at SOF Missions, we have this incredible clinic where we spend $50,000, if not more, for ten warriors to spend 5-days with more than 20 healthcare professionals. We take care of these men and women for a year. There is no bureaucracy, politics, or capitalism, just efficiency and efficacy. All of our work is research-based and renowned. We currently have a two-year grant with Dr. Koenig studying our methodology. We also model our clinics alongside Dr. Kelly, the founder of the Intrepid Center, whom we met at the University of Colorado Brain Health Institute conference. We continue to gather data on how effective our program is psychologically, physically, socially, and spiritually. We plan to present our results at conferences and submit our research to peer review journals.
Why SOF Missions?
There are a lot of programs out there that say they help veterans. Research shows there is a reason pragmatism works, and there’s a reason why objective data is crucial. We need to be analytical about this. There’s a difference between a program that makes you feel better for a moment. It could be a day, it could be a weekend, it could be a week, but that’s not enough. We need to have long-term solutions because veterans will continue to struggle if we don’t. At SOF Missions, we have the answer.
We work to find the core issue. Our program is not a feel-good program. Our warriors are here to work. You come into our program and train from seven in the morning to the evening. You’re seeing all sorts of healthcare professionals. We provide our treatment in a resort-like atmosphere because warriors don’t want to go to a hospital. We can do this in a place that is not an institution. We are here to bridge the gap – speed is key. The VA has its advantages. We appreciate the partnership with the VA has fill gaps to help the warrior, especially during time crunches. Our advantage is that we can serve people at Mock-1 speed. Assessing and caring for polytrauma is what we do very well.
One of our secrets at SOF Missions is that we take a holistic approach to the five major components, including social and spiritual dilemmas. During my own treatment, I had a great psychologist at the VA who really helped me solve a major problem and opened Pandora’s Box. But I had a profound question, “Why did this happen?”. I asked a spiritual question to a provider who wasn’t a subject matter expert in this field. I needed an answer, and she couldn’t provide one. While there, we also took care of my concussions which are cognitive in nature, and psychologists don’t know much about that either. That is why you need a team of experts from all five domains; you need a tribe. That is how we solve problems quickly. The ratio of those that find tremendous hope and become fully productive members of society through our program is extremely high because we address all of the domains; psychological, physical, social, spiritual, and cognitive.
The demand for quality veteran care is high, and it’s going to take a village to put a dent in it. From a national standpoint, the veteran population decreased 23.1% from 25.7 million in 2001 to 19.8 million in 2019. The suicide rate among veterans rose 35.9% from 2001 to 2019, from 23.3 per 100,000 in 2001 to 31.6 per 100,000 in 2019. So, while the veteran population continues to decrease, the rate of suicides is increasing. (2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report) There is no one singular cause for increased military suicides. There are too many variables that may contribute to rising rates. Moreover, the different roles of service members in the various branches and components (active or reserve) all present unique risk factors. High suicide rates mark a failure of the U.S. government and the U.S. society to manage the whole health approach that is needed to tackle this significant problem.
There are a variety of ways to help. Advocating on behalf of our men and women who are suffering and sharing our mission with those you know who can benefit from our program and resources. We offer signature fundraising events that are hosted throughout the year including a new launch, Operation Red Belt. By joining as a monthly member, you will receive an SOF Missions Red Belt. Monthly donations provide the resources and tools needed to bring hope and healing to our nations’ heroes who are in great distress.
I would challenge everyone to look at the programs they currently give to. Many programs raise hundreds of millions of dollars, but only a small percentage goes into veteran care. As a donor, why would you want to fund a program that does not strive to make every cent count toward the needs of our warriors? These discrepancies in resource allocation keep me up at night because I know how many more lives can be saved when monies are used properly.
I recently retired after 20 years of service. I’m here to tell you that the implications of war can be invisible wounds, and we are just now starting to realize this. History is repeating itself the same way it happened with our Vietnam-era warriors. It took about 10-15 years after that conflict, and then BOOM, the suicide rate was through the roof. Government programs are available; however, their resources are limited, and timeliness has proven difficult. Whether it is politics or business, it does not matter to me. I am in the business of saving lives, and my hope is that one day our program will be part of that process.
The Department of Defense cannot do it all despite the appropriate resources and services to help men and women in uniform. To put a dent in the suicide epidemic, you must put politics aside. You have to be a good commander, and you need to provide every viable option. You must put the warrior first, not the mission. With the notion that mission is always first, this is not the solution. Every leader will say without the mission; then you don’t have a force. Well, you know what? Without people, you don’t have a force; without a force, you don’t have a mission. As a squadron commander in special operations, I told my leadership people first, mission always. I was raised mission first, people always. But it’s my belief that if you take care of the person and their family, they’ll always accomplish the mission. The DOD is not accomplishing its mission, and they need help. Many of the programs they support use mental health therapists as the solution. One modality as a catch-all is not how you solve problems. I struggle with the DOD because many troops do not trust the leadership. I had to hide my injuries until 2017, when I woke up in the ER with no choice but to admit my struggles. Fear of using sick leave or being stationed at a desk job are only a few examples of why servicemembers do not report medical issues until it’s too late.
In April 2019, the U.S. had a homeless population of over 630,000, with 67,000 being veterans of the armed forces. Obviously, there is an issue, homelessness and suicide. Political parties do not matter here.
The color of your skin does not matter, either. What matters is character and work ethic. When I came out of the institution, I saw how America was making color an issue. I saw the movement for equality as a Hispanic, and I understand the struggle. My mom is from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was a minority, and while being raised in the projects, there were Koreans, Vietnamese, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and a plethora of other nationalities. When I was raised, I didn’t see anybody’s skin color; I just saw a person. As a non-profit leader, I hire based on skill, character, and work ethic. I think that is the lens America should look through.
In the military, somebody is always telling you where to go, what to do, and when to do it. That is a hard adjustment. Being away from your family on holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays is not easy. When I left the military, I was anxious to get away from the system, but I had no idea how much I depended on it. Once you get out, it feels like nobody cars.
One of the things we offer at our clinics is camaraderie. I used to complain about half the guys at work, and those are the guys I miss because they were my family. I didn’t realize how important they were to my daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly regimens. When I left, I was sad because I didn’t have them anymore, and now I feel lonely. I’m not around my brothers and sisters, and that is a loss that settles deep. In our program, we bring them together not just during the clinic but for life. They are all from different walks of life, and it doesn’t matter what they did in the military; we all have something in common. We are all in pain, so we go through this pain together. In any special operations team, you have a weapons expert, a medic, an engineer, an intel person, and a communication expert. We all have our gifts, and then we all come together and help each other get through the ambushes of life. When they leave, they are friends for life.
The Resiliency Program
If you raise your hand and say, “I need help.” We will help you at zero cost. It does not matter how much help you need; we will help you as much as we can. Even though we cannot solve every problem, we will solve most, and if we cannot find a solution, we will find someone who can. Whether veterans are flying or driving to our program, we cover all the costs. Many come in broken and leave different people. But, when they go back home, that is when the war begins. The whiskey is there, the gun is there, and the angry spouse is there. The kids and bad memories are there. We’ve all made mistakes, and I’ve made my fair share as well, believe me, but what I have learned is that you must man up and patch things up. There is power in forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. Those pieces lead to redemption.
Accountability is also paramount to our program. We must look at ourselves, and we have to be honest. Humans are really good at lying to themselves and believing the lie, and they try to convince others that the lie is the truth. Healing requires you to look at yourself and at the things you did and admit that you had other options. We tell people when they return home, even those who have been abusive verbally, physically, and/or psychologically for years, you have a choice. If you have had years of poor behavior, you can’t assume the people you hurt suddenly want to journey with you. There is a trail from your past you have left behind. But we do tell our warriors to let go of the irreparable past and focus on the invincible future. Ask for forgiveness, repent, reconcile, and find redemption. It is not easy; it is really hard. Years of abuse, destruction, and hurting yourself and others it is going to take time to fix.
I am very passionate about this topic because I am grateful. I was blessed with another chance, and this is what I have been called to do. I am a professional speaker; I do that to fulfill my purpose. I have one shot in this world to make an impact. Do you know what I want people to say about me when I’m gone? I don’t want them to talk about my military decorations or my positions in leadership. I want them to talk about how many lives we saved. I want to be known as a vessel on this earth that made an atomic impact that resonated throughout all communities, not just the veteran community. Suicide is an American issue and is the second leading cause of death for adolescents between 11 and 33 years old. How is it possible that our young men and women are taking their lives at such an alarming rate? We are not on this earth for ourselves but for others. I still experience pain. The pain, the agony, the disappointment, the anxiety, and the frustration I now use as fuel. There is nothing more powerful than turning pain into a strength. That is how I can be an unstoppable force for good, I will not stop until I’m done, and only God will be the one to extract me out.