“It is interesting to me what people are capable of. I frequently say you’ve already survived the worst thing that has ever happened to you.” ~ Bob Bischoff PhD Clinical Psychology and Heroes on the Water Board Member
Heroes on the Water (HOW) board member Bob Bischoff, PhD, comes from an extended military family. He is a retired Army psychologist, Afghanistan veteran and currently the Director of Behavior Health at a Midwest Army post. Joining the HOW board was an easy decision because the organization marries his passion for boating and fishing with caring for service members.
“I am especially interested in the needs of veterans’ and first responders’ families,” says Bob. “My experience has shown me that sometimes the only reason our service members can deploy with an ability to focus is due to family support.”
Road to Mental Healing
Bob’s family has a long and strong military history. His grandfather was in the Navy in WW2 in the Pacific Theater; his dad an Air Force Vietnam veteran, with Bob himself picking up the baton and enlisting in the Army.
His love of people and desire to serve led him to become a clinical psychologist, starting at the Veterans Administration and then enlisting to become part of the busiest clinics in Afghanistan.
“I read a lot as a kid and find people’s stories fascinating,” says Bob. “People are so capable, and I frequently say you have survived the worst thing that has ever happened to you, so far. Hopefully this will continue to be the worst, and you have already survived.”
Bob knows that it is not easy for someone to pick up the pieces of their life after any sort of trauma, particularly those he’s worked with after deployment. He helps them pick up the pieces and help them see exactly how powerful they are.
“I don’t think people wake up and say I’m going to screw up my life today,” says Bob. “People find themselves in extraordinary positions and then they do sometimes ordinary or extraordinary things to get out of them.”
Bob’s missions included trying to train Afghan techs in mental health first aid, to help them learn the symptoms and signs of severe mental illness. This was in addition to supporting our own U.S. forces, who were receiving quick breaks just to get them back in action.
“We did the best we could to get the soldiers grounded again, because a distracted service member was a liability, particularly in that kind of operational tempo,” says Bob.
Bob was medically retired, as a victim of toxic exposure, and came stateside to work with soldiers at home, both through stationing at an Army post and through his relationships to organizations like HOW.
Live a Life You Want to Live
When Bob moved into the civilian world, he became the Director of Mental Health in Leavenworth. He still works with our military, as well as active national guard and reserve members.
“What we see here even though it’s a reduced warfare stance is there are still things – sexual trauma, previous trauma exacerbated by service – a multitude of things that break people,” says Bob. “The job is to say, ‘OK how do we band aid this back together, so you are at least living a life that you want to live?’”
Understanding the rigors of combat, how the military utilized the “citizen soldier” model, and how deployment can reduce life span gives Bob a unique position to support mental health improvement.
“I have felt what they feel,” says Bob. “I’ve come a long way in 12 years and recognize the difficulty of the journey and how incompatible it seems. Fortunately, I have a very supportive wife, and we enjoy working with organizations who support our veterans and first responders, especially those who support families.
Family Supporting Family
Bob really likes that HOW includes families and first responders in the program.
“I plan on taking my spouse to HOW events. Our first grandchild is now 4 months old, and when he is old enough, he is going too. Going to be a family shared responsibility to assist others,” says Bob.
Bob was asked to consider joining the board of HOW, and felt it was a good organization in which to provide his time and expertise.
“I was impressed by the way the organization was founded, how excited the people involved are, and the authenticity of the organization,” says Bob. “The way HOW makes a difference is low key and focused on the participants having a better day than they had before while trying to enact long-term change.”
“The picture painted by the organization was a picture that I could see myself in.”
Bob is pleased to see HOW embarking upon a study to prove the efficacy of the program.
“The study shows HOW supports measuring rather than making assumptions,” says Bob. “The stress management numbers are fantastic.”
Another result of the study shows that HOW programs support relationships and how important the family is, as well as they have their own struggles.
“PTS is characterized by avoidance. Avoidance is a key factor because it’s a protective factor, which is effective but not adaptive,” says Bob. “What HOW does is it strips avoidance through a safe activity. If the participants have an enjoyable time, they are likely to do it again. The program goes deeper than fishing. It is supporting conversations with people.”
HOW programs draw participants out of a comfort zone that helps them decrease avoidance and expand horizons. We are expanding the study into a second phase that encompasses veterans, first responders, family members, care givers and health care professionals.
If you want to maximize your impact for our heroes and their families, join the Honor Circle. Continual gifting ensures our ability to expand and improve programs in a positive and authentic way.