The Hippo


May 26, 2020








What are you really interested in right now?
I’m actually kind of a foreign policy nerd. … I write policy papers in edited volumes for books with some PhDs that I know.

Veteran helping veterans
CEO works to get fellow vets back on their feet


 Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

I moved to New Hampshire about a year and a half ago. I was living in Florida and I was actually working for the Department of Defense working counter-narcotics down at United States Southern Command. I actually worked for General [John F.] Kelly, his staff, I was his policy chief for a while. So I was working in foreign policy for a bit. And, prior to that, I was a naval officer and was stationed out in Japan and the western Pacific area.
Can you tell me about your experience serving in the military and any lessons you learned from it that you bring into what you’re doing now?
Definitely. And that’s part of the reason that I started doing this company with my family friends, which is the Strive Health piece of the company — we’re partnered companies. … My best friend that I served with is the brother of my co-CEO, Eric Freeman. … [The military] is one of the largest clubs you can be in and you get such close relationships with folks, and you consider these people your brothers and sisters. So, for me, that’s one of the main lessons in my mission, my active duty time. ... I did a lot of stuff, I did disaster relief operations during the tsunami and the nuclear meltdown in Japan … [and I’ve] been to many, many different countries, but one thing that was constant was the folks I was with. … It’s one of those things that you always have a close bond with them. For me, this is my mission continuing, what I’m doing.
What’s the connection with substance use disorder and PTSD, and serving the veteran community in that very specific way?
I will say, my last tour was pretty rough. I had a sailor die by suicide in front of me, actually. One of my sailors, one of my guys. And I had a rough time when I got out of the military, when I transitioned out of the military into the civilian world. I went from being among all the folks that I worked with and respected … and I came back, was getting my master’s degree and was basically a high-functioning alcoholic. I was working for the Department of Defense, but I was drinking, I would say, close to a bottle of whiskey a day. And I didn’t … want to get help, I didn’t want to go to the VA, I didn’t … think I needed help. … Everyone that’s serving in our center right now has served and you have that connection, and you’ll see a lot better outcomes because people will be able to … let their guard down and get help when they’re talking to other veterans.
Are you modeling the organization after any other types of delivery? Will you have a lot of veterans in recovery staffing the program?
Absolutely. And … everyone who works for us is duly licensed mental health and substance abuse counselors. … I think one of the biggest pieces that differentiates us is we are trying to partner with as many community partners … [and work on] getting these folks back into their communities. … Of course, what we’re doing is intensive outpatient ... and that is the clinical side of this, but you have to have that community piece. … Our center in Manchester, we model it to look like a USO. It doesn’t feel like a clinic. … We’re also doing things like yoga. We’re also connecting with the Red Sox Home Base Foundation. We’re doing a lot of partnership work. 
Does reintegration include helping vets get jobs?
Yes. We’re working with the national VA right now. We just started working with the regional VA here. That’s part of … the main things they want us to work with. … Of the 20 suicides that happen per day for veterans, 14 of them … do not get services from the VA. So, that’s part of our partnership with them. They want to have that connectivity. Of course, we’re just a very small piece of the puzzle. … Jobs, school, a lot of the other stuff that affects people, we’re helping to facilitate folks getting into those things. 
How’s the program going so far?
We’re doing unfortunately well. There’s a lot of need up here. I just had a meeting with Chief Goonan from the Manchester Fire Department on the Safe Station program and how we can help with that and Serenity Place. It’s one of those things where we are what we would call in the military a ‘force multiplier’ — that’s what I would see us as. We’re here to be a partner to these folks, with the other treatment providers. — Ryan Lessard 

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