AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – An outpatient program at VA Augusta is helping veterans create meaningful, productive lives. 

Jennifer Outlaw served in the army for 14 years as a military police officer. Even in retirement, she says her calling to help people never waned. 

“Working for the VA was like the next natural step,” said Jennifer Outlaw, Program Coordinator of VA Augusta’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center. “So, I can still serve in a way. I can still remain part of the military community and stay connected.” 

At the Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center, Outlaw helps veterans with severe mental illness find a sense of meaning and purpose through tailored treatment plans.

“To see them go from that low place to thriving, to being connected in the community, to being able to have meaningful relationships and feel like I have a reason to live again,” said Outlaw. “I get reminded of that everyday.”

“It changed within a matter of six months for me,” said Erwin White, a Navy veteran.

White says he came to the VA at a loss for how to deal with his extreme behavioral issues.

“I sat in the stairwell and said, ‘God, I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I’m not gonna leave this place until I find myself again’,” said White.

After years of guidance and graduating from the PRRC, he says he’s now living a more sustainable life.

He tells us he keeps a pencil behind his ear so he can jot down every new thing he learns at the VA. 

“We learn acronyms,” said White. “We learn breathing techniques, taking times outs…there’s so much more. It goes into everything that I do.”

Albert Pearson says that fighting wars and losing people in his life took a major toll on him. 

The PRRC helped him manage PTSD and anger issues. 

“I told my wife before that a veteran understands a veteran a lot better than a civilian understands a veteran,” said Albert Lewayne Pearson, an Army veteran. “It’s very intense and very challenging. But with the help of my old friends, we’ll make it through it.”

White and Pearson graduated in September from the PRRC. 

“I was raised through welfare and everything,” said Pearson. “And I never got a diploma. And when I graduated the program, I actually got a diploma with a shield on it and everything. And that was very special to me.”

The mission of the PRRC is to help veterans know that recovery from severe mental illness is possible…and a meaningful life is within reach. 

Outlaw says she’s also inspired some program participants to pursue social work.

“To first encounter someone in the halls of the VA and then they become colleagues,” said Outlaw. “I’m super proud of all of them.”

Outlaw says that, with all the classes, activities and sessions the PRRC provides, this never feels like work.

“We can only smile and be thankful that we were part of that process,” said Outlaw.