14:54 PM

Student veteran with PTSD getting AAS in Drug & Alcohol Counseling to help others ‘in the pit’

Student veteran Alex YutzeyDrug & Alcohol Counseling student veteran Alex Yutzey decided to join the Army while he was a high school senior watching the 9/11 Twin Towers attack on the TV in art class. From 2002-2008, he served in the U.S. Army with the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade. He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2005.

Consequences of Combat: PTSD and Addiction

Today, Yutzey is 39 years old and said, “Going to war at 18 when your brain is still not fully formed does things you don’t realize until much later. The 19-year-old who returned from Iraq was not the same ‘kid’ who deployed a year earlier.”

The young soldier found himself mostly unable to sleep. When sleep did come, vivid nightmares tortured him. And his waking hours were filled with a constant sense of anxiety.

“I had guilt, shame and remorse for the things I had seen, the things I had done, and the friends I lost,” he explained. “My two deployments didn’t change my belief in God, but they did change my relationship with God. I was resentful and turned that resentment upward and inward. That led me to substances to numb the pain. Consequently, my post-military journey was wrought with long periods of addiction and suicidality.”

Healing and Finding Purpose

Camp Hope in Houston, Texas, is the program that saved Yutzey’s life. Camp Hope is a PTSD Foundation of America faith-based program that provides a safe place where people who have post-traumatic stress disorder can get the support they need to experience healing.

He said, “Camp Hope gave me back my wife, gave me my two kids, restored my relationship with God, and gave me purpose.”

Yutzey’s passion and purpose is helping support other veterans and their families with PTSD. He serves as the program director at PTSD Foundation of America, overseeing the development and implementation of programs there. The former soldier wants people to know that PTSD is a normal response to an abnormal circumstance.

“Lots of people have PTSD; it’s not just a veteran phenomenon,” he explained. “The difference in veterans is that you are exposed and re-exposed for weeks and months on end. In addition, most of us also experienced unprocessed childhood trauma and piled combat trauma on top of that. In my experience, it takes someone who has been ‘in the pit’ to help someone else find their way out.”

Yutzey’s Path to UST, Its Veteran Success Center, and Synchronicity

Yutzey wanted to enhance his education to further support veterans battling addiction at Camp Hope. He met Dr. Trisha Ruiz, UST’s senior director of Veteran Services, who introduced him to the University’s Veteran Success Center and the AAS program for Drug and Alcohol Counseling. Yutzey recognized the match and enrolled. 

“Unfortunately, PTSD and addiction go hand in hand,” he said. “The courses I am taking are very personal to me. It’s my lived experience. The professors are amazing and so knowledgeable. I was a little intimidated about getting back into school at almost 40, but the process has been an amazing journey of discovery.”

He described the Veteran Success Center as “phenomenal” and sees a synchronicity between it and Camp Hope.  

“Dr. Ruiz and Jay Hernandez made me feel like I found my home. Together, we are paving a path for other veterans from our program at Camp Hope to transition into the Veterans Success Center at UST upon completion.”