Moving your life forward after being diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a treacherous journey. One Newman University student is taking that journey day by day.
James Stewart is a husband and father with a goal to help people and make a difference in others' lives. He is married to Emily, and together they have a young son, Wyatt. Stewart also has four children from a previous marriage: Caleb, Jacob, Kelli Lynn and Gabriel.
Stewart was medically retired from the U.S. Army in 2012 after serving for 20 years. He decided to take a year off but found himself antsy and unsure of what to do throughout his days.
Stewart said, “I fished and hunted and worked around the house. It [retirement] wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be.”
It was Stewart’s mother-in-law, among other family members, who finally encouraged him to seek solace in something else – horses.
“I went to a program called ‘Saratoga WarHorse’,” said Stewart. “They take retired thoroughbred horses and pair them with soldiers who have PTSD, or going through problems, and it is amazing what happens.”
He values his time at Saratoga WarHorse, and continues to give credit to the program for changes in his life.
“When a horse starts releasing stress and anxiety, they blow out air — and there's a connection [you feel]. This horse, who knows nothing about you and doesn’t judge you, wants to be your friend,” Stewart said.
Stewart said the experience was a spiritual one for him and some days, wishes he could go back for more.
Now, he is on a new path. After applying for a variety of jobs to no avail, he decided to do something vastly different. After much prayer and consideration, he knew a career in counseling would be a good fit.
Stewart pointed to a couple of reasons that motivated his new career journey.
“First, I have teenage kids, and if I could influence just one teenager out there to never touch alcohol, I will consider myself a success,” Stewart said. “Secondly, I want to help my fellow veterans, and help them understand that there is hope, that they can live with this [PTSD].”
With a plan and solid goal in mind, he took the steps necessary, attending Hutchinson Community College and now Newman University.
Stewart said Newman is a good fit for him and he is grateful for the staff and faculty who have been so helpful.
“Fortunately, the good Lord has surrounded me with people who understand what I’m doing and who’ve helped me do that,” he said. “They encourage me. It’s a great feeling that people at Newman actually care.”
One faculty member in particular that James has connected with is Director of the Counseling Program John Walker. He has worked with Stewart from his first moments at Newman.
" [Stewart] talked about what he’d like to do, how he overcame his own challenges," Walker said. "This is James’ effort to put purpose in his life, to give back to the veterans, and help serve. It’s his way to give back.”
Stewart’s family has also been a motivation and support system.
“When I was going to Hutch, there were times when Gabe and Jake helped me with some of my classes,” Stewart said.
He also mentioned his wife’s role in his journey.
“Emily is always telling me how great I’m doing. She’s my encouragement. She’s my voice of reason.”
Regarding his goal to obtain his degree, Stewart emphasized that “I have a purpose. I take it very seriously. I’m here to learn and I have an end goal in mind. Failure is not an option.”
Walker has faith in him and looks forward to working with Stewart while he is a student at Newman. He said, "The transformation that I see with James has been, as he becomes more comfortable, truly what gives him a gift [to adapt or change]. There is so much awfulness [with PTSD], and to look at that as a teachable thing, utilizing it. There’s no question that he’s motivated, interested, and devoted.”
During his time at Saratoga WarHorse in 2013, Stewart was featured in a documentary produced by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) and shown on HRTV. Operations Consultant Stacie Clark recently traveled to Wichita to follow up with Stewart. You can watch the original documentary here, or learn more about the program by visiting the Saratoga WarHorse website.