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North Bay program helps troubled veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan wars ease back into society

  • Combat veteran Eric Arvizu talks about his experiences during the graduation ceremony for The Pathway Home in Yountville on Friday, June 22, 2012. The Pathway Home is a transition center that helps returning soldiers with combat-related stress. ((Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat))

When the phone call came, Eric Arvizu had all but given up on the idea of continuing on.

An infantry machine gunner whose 4 years in the U.S. Marine Corps included urban combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, Arvizu was back in the safety of the United States, but he was “literally falling apart.”

He suffered debilitating panic attacks that would last three and four days, was gripped by ever-present fear and anger, and could not go out into the world without breaking down and retreating back inside.

“I was weeks, if not days, from taking my life,” he recalled.

Then a fellow Marine who had found his way into an innovative North Bay combat-related stress program called Arvizu and extended a lifeline.

“He said, ‘Eric, this place is for us,' ” said Arvizu, 31, now a Florida resident.

And it was.

The Pathway Home in Yountville, north of Napa, has provided just what its name suggests to more than 300 soldiers like Arvizu. It seeks to provide a treatment model for the hundreds of thousands of men and women returning from recent wars but unable to transition back to civilian life on their own.

Graduates of the four-month residential program say they leave with the tools they need to cope with the future, the strength to drive their own recovery and a sense of hope — something many said they never expected to experience again.

Over and over and over again, they say the program saved their lives.

“I know for a fact I want to live,” Air National Guard medic Mark Rubio said after finishing his work at the center last summer. “I want to thrive, and I couldn't have done that without this program.”

“This place taught me that I have the capacity to love myself and the capacity to love other people,” said Arvizu. “And that, more than anything, makes me happy — that I'm not dead inside; I'm not a monster.”

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