The film, an investigation into failed mental health care system for veterans and the resulting suicide crisis among veterans, was screened earlier this year at the annual Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) conference. Moore and some of her team were in the audience.
“About 500 or so people watched that documentary,” Moore said. “We were all so moved by it. It was one of those movies that you watch and your life is changed. After viewing it, we had to take action. ”
The action that Moore and her colleagues decided to take was to bring “Thank You for Your Service” to Minnesota for the film’s regional premiere in November. They felt that its message of urgency around the mental health crisis for U.S. military veterans, combined with practical solutions for healing, needed to be witnessed by a larger audience.
“We felt we needed to make people here more aware of what’s in their midst,” said Ray Anschel, Acres for Life military coordinator and equine specialist, “especially since in Minnesota we have almost 20 veterans a day that are finding themselves with suicidal ideation or contemplating suicide.”
“Thank You for Your Service” does a good job of putting the crisis into a larger context, Anschel said, by outlining the factors that make accessing high-quality mental health care challenging for many veterans.
“The film tries to acknowledge that it is not just a handful of folks that are dealing with this shortage of care,” he said. “The VA is not equipped to handle what they are up against here. Many of the folks interviewed in the film are VA psychiatrists. They’re saying, ‘Enough is enough. We don’t have the capacity to help everyone that needs our help.’ We decided to host this premiere to make the public aware of what is going on.”
An alternative for veterans
Acres for Life staff felt that their organization was an appropriate host for the film’s local premiere because the mental health services they offer are growing in popularity among veterans. While the movie does not specifically promote that EAGALA-model services that Acres provides, it does promote alternative therapies as important care options for veterans, Moore said.
“The film has a focus on options,” Moore said. “One size does not fit all for mental health services. What works for one person might not work for another. It promotes experiential therapies that get people moving and out of their heads and into their bodies. This is exactly what equine therapy does.”
Moore said that military veterans have told her that they appreciate the power that time spent with horses has to help them work through traumatic life events.
“Trauma gets stored in the body,” Moore explained. “Through movement and connection with other living beings we can help release those trauma memories that are stored deep inside. EAGALA equine therapy gets people out in nature, in the environment working with highly intuitive beings.”
Many veterans are uncomfortable with traditional therapeutic approaches, Anschel explained. “A lot of veterans shy away from anything to do with therapy. It leaves a stigma. How do you talk about these experiences? How do you begin to describe them to anybody? And do you want to?”
Maybe because equine therapy offers a nontraditional approach to healing, it is growing in popularity, Moore said. At Acres for Life, the numbers bear out that theory.
“We’re on track to double our services this year,” she said. “In 2014-‘15, we did 700 sessions. In 2015-‘16 we did 1,400. This year we should be scheduled for 3,000 sessions.”
Hosting a regional film premiere requires more than a big-screen TV and a DVD player. Acres for Life wanted to do “Thank You for Your Service” justice, so once they decided that they would bring the film to the Twin Cities, they set out in search of a theater that could host a large audience. They found what they were looking for in the former Music Box Theatre, now the Loring Park branch of Wooddale Church.
The Music Box holds 437 people, Moore said. She hopes that the film will draw a standing-room-only crowd. “We’d love to see 450, more than we have seats for,” she said.
The costs involved in bringing the film to Minnesota and renting the theater are significant, especially for a small nonprofit run by just 12 employees. “Already at Acres we seek donations for scholarships so that any service member they come to us free of charge,” Moore said. “We are committed to giving back to those that have served us.”
The extra expense is well worth it, Anschel emphasized, if just one person in the audience is helped by what they see.
“When I first saw the film, I had no idea of what I would be witnessing,” he said. “This film is truly an eye-opener. Because of my work, I‘m pretty aware of the kinds of issues facing veterans and their families, but somehow seeing it all on the big screen takes it to a gut level. Hearing the stories directly from these veterans and hearing what they have gone through facing the horrors of war and not having the support they needed was riveting.”
“The film is just so well done,” Moore added. “It raises the issue of the problem at hand and also describes potential solutions. Its message is something that desperately needs to be heard.”
“Thank You for Your Service” will be screened at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10 at Wooddale Church, 1407 Nicollet Ave S., Minneapolis. Tickets for the screening are $15. Proceeds will support Acres for Life’s military-service scholarship. After the film, there will be a dessert and coffee reception, as well as a Q&A featuring a local service member who has experienced the struggle of getting medical health services.