After completing his first tour in Iraq, retired Army Sgt. Vernard Hines realized he had post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, but “seeking help or talking about it wasn’t an option—it wasn’t as highly accepted as it is now,” he tells Safe Harbor Recovery Center. However, that was only the beginning of a troublesome journey for this veteran.
Vernard Hines: On the Rollercoaster
For thousands of military personnel who experience PTSD, Hines’ story is all too common. He trained for a 2nd tour in Iraq just months after arriving back home, essentially staying in combat mode for three years. “To me, I was ‘okay.’ Now, the people around me knew something was different but ‘who’s not different when you return home from war?’—at least, that’s what I convinced myself,” Hines says.
Struggling with his mental health, dodging near-death experiences, and being “moments away from suicide,” he admits it was difficult to face the reality of having PTSD because even as a child, he shied away from confrontation. “I would joke instead of standing up for myself. I always used laughter to hide my pain. I would be laughing on the outside but dying on the inside because I wasn’t happy with myself,” he recalls. “By the time I was in the military, I was a professional at hiding my pain—and being in that environment helped me do it [even more] because you couldn’t show weakness during my time in the service.”
According to the Veterans Administration, current and former service members with PTSD often feel:
- Always on guard
- Isolated from others
Some also suffer with pain, insomnia, nightmares, and disturbing memories. Additionally, approximately 20 percent of individuals develop alcohol and substance use disorder as a way to block out or adversely deal with what they’re experiencing.
What Hines quickly learned is “you can use laughter to hide the pain, but eventually it’s going to come out in other areas of your life.”
A True Lightbulb Moment
He remembers the moment like it was yesterday. “My therapist explained to me and my wife that I had an injury to my brain, just like any other injury,” he says. “She showed us a 3D model of my brain and where it was injured. That put things in perspective for us: I then looked at my PTSD as an injury.”
Hines, a father of five, also learned through therapy how to better manage his condition by including his children and immediate family in counseling. “Families need to know why their veteran is the way he is. It helps when PTSD is explained correctly and you take away the stigma,” Hines says. “My kids heard from my therapist about what their father was experiencing.”
This Veteran Helps Others Heal Through Laughter and Openness
He also recognized a new opportunity based on his pain: Instead of hiding, he could use laughter in a healthy, healing way. “Laughter is important because it reduces tension and stress and lowers anxiety and irritation. We must laugh—it’s part of our DNA.”
Hines became a certified peer recovery specialist and also “The Laugh Therapist.” He encourages serious conversations among veterans and others about the mental impact of trauma and how to reduce the stigma, while creating safe spaces for people to find moments of joy in their recovery.
“I’m always sharing my lived experience with other veterans on how we can overcome or deal with our struggles in a comedic and therapeutic way,” he says. “I try to assist them by letting them know that [even though] they have PTSD they can still be in control of their emotions. You can laugh at your pain in a healthy, therapeutic way, and it won’t feel like pain because you’re laughing in the midst of seeking help.”
He’s also a strong advocate for veterans and others managing PTSD to get the proper professional tools—such as medication, different forms of therapy, and support groups—to help them cope, feel better about themselves, and “not let everything be about PTSD.”
Tim Webb, Safe Harbor’s CEO, says Hines “provides laugh therapy every other week for our vets and they love him. As he tells his story, you can see folks come out of their shells.”
Comedic Relief by a Veteran with a Higher Purpose
Hines, whose early influences include comedic giants Richard Pryor, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac, chose to be a “clean” comedian because when he first started out, his grandmother would come to his shows, and he knew he couldn’t say certain words. Inspiration today comes from other clean performers, such as Sinbad, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, and Cletus Kassidy.
Another reason for his focus on clean comedy is his faith and what he stands for. “My philosophy is as a clean comedian I can perform anywhere.” In his standup shows, podcasts, and syndicated morning show broadcasts, his comedy focuses on faith, humor, and mental health awareness. He shares this joke with us: “After a few trips to the VA, I was diagnosed with PTSD. Now, I didn’t know what PTSD was, so when the doctor said, ‘Mr. Hines you have PTSD,’ all I heard was the S the T and the D. I thought this man said I have a STD. My hearing exam was next!”
But his one–on–one connection with veterans is really where his message resonates, as he always wants to give back to veterans what he received, especially access to resources, and the reality of living with this condition, which he refers to as “Processing Traumatic Situations Differently.”
“Being at a place like Safe Harbor, they can relate to me, and I to them. Because only by the grace of God could it have been me in their situation,” he says. “When I do my Laugh Therapy sessions, I also put in my lived experiences I have with my PTSD. It’s an extension of my calling because I don’t want to seem like a veteran who has it all together. I let them know that I still see my therapist and I still go to my group meetings.”
Try the Tactical Recovery Program at Safe Harbor
It takes a specialized unit of professionals to understand the unique needs of veterans and their family members, which is why the Tactical Recovery Program intentionally includes both veterans and people in long-term recovery on its staff. These individuals understand what it’s like to serve and are trained through PsychArmor.
Additionally, this recovery program is supported by the VA’s Community Care Network, which utilizes veteran’s benefits to cover the cost of treatment. You’ve served your country—now receive the care you deserve.
Vernard Hines has one final uplifting point. “My veterans, please don’t give up on yourself. Take recovery one day at a time. Surround yourself with positive people and seek some help. If the first therapist doesn’t work, try another one,” he says. “PTSD didn’t cause my life to be in disarray— the stigma of seeking help caused my life to be in disarray. The sooner I sought help, the sooner my purpose became clearer.”