Warriors Heart co-founder Tom Spooner.

Warriors Heart is saving veterans’ lives, including one Legionnaire's

Warriors Heart is a healing center that provides private treatment for chemical dependency and co-occurring psychological disorders relating to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or the psychological effects of a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Located on a ranch in Bandera, Texas, this facility is built specially for active-duty military, veterans and first responders … those that face life and death on a daily basis. It’s the only one in the nation dedicated to people that run toward danger, and not away from it.

Warriors Heart was founded by Josh Lannon, who serves as president, his wife Lisa, and co-founder Tom Spooner. Spooner is a retired U.S. Army veteran after 21 years of service who is now dedicating his professional efforts to healing fellow warriors and helping his community cope.

Soldier’s heart, or effort syndrome, was common after World War I and bears a very similar name to this organization that is taking a new approach to battle the effects of war.

“A stateside paramedic and a combat veteran have very different experiences, but the things that bother us, and the things that eat us up, and the things that we need to process are all exactly the same,” Spooner said. “It’s all the matters of the heart.”

Spooner joined the Army in 1990, went to basic training, advanced infantry training and jump school before being assigned to the 82nd Airborne from 1990-1995. From there he went straight to the Gulf War. “That kind of set the tone for my military experience,” Spooner said. “It was a pretty big eye opener.”

From 1996 to 2001, Spooner was in 7th Special Forces group. He was an explosive expert and engineer for almost six years, all before 9/11. Then in September 2001, he became a Delta Force Operator. Spooner said between 2001-2011, he deployed 12 times and spent about 40 months in combat.

Spooner is medically retired because of several injuries, including a broken back and a traumatic brain injury from a mortar round that landed close to him. “Then, I had a good bout of PTSD,” he said. “So when I was getting out of the military, I had a pretty rough spot. The only thing that I had going for me was that I wasn’t abusing chemicals or self-medicating.”

Since Spooner left the military he has been passionate about helping veterans, especially with sobriety. “I finally found my spot because I am super passionate about sobriety and Warriors Heart primary diagnosis is chemical dependencies with secondary’s of PTSD and TBI. I have a lot of experience with all of it,” Spooner said.

Warriors Heart is a training program designed for people to go back to their lives and utilize the training to stay sober. “Nobody wants to go to a drug rehab but everybody will go to a course to learn how to control their emotions, and not drink or use drugs,” Spooner said. “If you were a paramedic, a firefighter or soldier, everybody comes through some sort of basic training or some sort of academy, so its got that kind of feel. And it’s that what we talk about changing the narrative things, what we do there is just train them how to process their emotions, how to live with what they are feeling without drinking or drugging, and it’s just training.”

Warriors Heart is located on a 540-acre ranch that used to be an executive retreat for an oil company; it’s literally a resort.

“I’d rather call it a healing center,” said Danny Brennenstuhl, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1985-1991 and is a member of American Legion Post 157 in Bandera. He served aboard the USS Nassau (LHA-4), and Fleet Combat Training Center Atlantic as a computer specialist in the intelligence field.

“Any place where veterans can go to be together with other warriors is always healing,” Brennenstuhl said. “So to seek out The American Legion after you get out of the service to be a part of that brotherhood again can be lifesaving.” Brennenstuhl is grateful he found Warriors Heart for treatment. “It’s where warriors come to get better, and it’s great,” he said. “A lot of magic occurs around the fire pit at night because the number one thing that we create is peer-to-peer network.”

Brennenstuhl was diagnosed with depression, alcoholism and generalized anxiety disorder with agoraphobia. “When someone suggested I seek treatment, I agreed, but was skeptical that anyone could help,” he said.

He described himself as a shut-in and didn’t like to leave his house. “I was drinking heavily and it was really hurting my family. My daughter was afraid for me. My mother was afraid for me.”

Warriors Heart offers the option for the family to be involved as much or as little as they like. Some families are very far away, some are closer, but they are always included if they want to be.

“You are always in contact with (your family). You are never just completely isolated away from them, so they can get updates on you and kind of follow you through the program,” Brennenstuhl said.

When he got home from Warriors Heart the first thing that his daughter said made him cry. “She looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I have my dad back.’ It was awesome, and Warriors Heart made that all possible.”

Spooner said the Warriors Heart program prepares military servicemembers, veterans and first responders to be successful once they go back into the civilian world after treatment.

Besides meetings, the program offers healing mechanisms such as an art shop. “We know that in the healing process creativity is a huge activity that heals the brain,” Spooner said. “It’s a lot of wood working, it’s a lot of stone, it’s steel and welding and forging, and stuff that fits our population.”

Warriors Heart has also set up a system to pay for the treatment that’s a combination between private and insurance pay, nonprofit scholarship grants and sponsorship. Spooner said they have never turned anyone away because they couldn’t pay.

“We treat the whole person, we treat the chemical dependency, and we treat the underlying PTSD and TBI at the same time. It doesn’t work any other way,” he said.

“I am proud to say that the Lord and Warriors Heart saved my life. I have been clean and sober for 14 months, and have my life back,” Brennenstuhl said. “There is no other place that this miracle could have taken place.”