L.A. Dubay, recreational therapist

Lisa Ann (L.A.) Dubay, now a senior at Sacramento State, was offered help in her darkest moments as a homeless veteran in 2012. She took it.


In 2012, Lisa Ann (L.A.) Dubay, now a Sacramento State senior, was offered help in her darkest moments as a homeless veteran. She took it. Today, she heads outdoors for the light. Dubay says she entered the military to escape abuse in a Detroit biker gang. After she and her husband were discharged for smoking marijuana, they got into drugs, and he committed suicide. Now, she’s pursuing her bachelor’s in recreation therapy. Treatment, she says, involves outdoor activities to help people experiencing mental illness and substance abuse become whole again. She plans to give the therapy on a ranch for veterans. For now, she wants more vets’ voices to be heard.

So, what is recreation therapy?

We start with an assessment of a client’s needs. We then come up with a treatment plan, a specific recreational activity to meet their needs, as well as goals and objectives. After that, we do an evaluation. The thing that makes it different from recreation is we do assessments, questionnaires—we actually follow up to see if the recreation is helping. If you rode your bike everyday, you could test yourself a month later to see how you’re feeling. We gather evidence and show those outdoor adventures do help veterans.

My first semester here, a professor recommended I go with 14 other disabled female vets to Idaho for a five-day snow sport trip. They taught us about military recreation therapy with counselors. The camaraderie … gave me something to live for. They taught me I was worthy.

What has helped you?

Being around other vets. Talking with a therapist and a group. That helped me with my “cognitive distortions,” when you minimize things or just have negative thoughts.

Why is it so difficult leaving trauma?

It’s a deep pit. To quit that, like drugs, you have to be at the bottom. Some may be on the verge of suicide. Most can’t pull themselves out of that without help. The gist of getting out of trauma or depression is: Ask for help. Men—especially veterans—don’t ask. Many don’t go to the V.A. since they don’t trust it or can’t. I was a homeless vet living in my truck in 2012 and started having mental-health and substance-abuse issues. A friend told me about the Sacramento Veteran Resource Center, and I went for a whole year. It saved my life. But it wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t reached out.

What can we do better for vets?

Many homeless vets don’t get benefits because of their discharge status. … I was discharged from the Navy for drug abuse. I smoked pot in the hospital with my soon-to-be husband. He had a broken leg; I had a broken neck. We went to the bar and got in trouble. After a drug test the next week, we got 45 days shining brass. Now, the whole world’s going to be high in three weeks.

After I was homeless, decades later, I found an advocate who helps with veteran military claims who got me my benefits. She helped me file my claims and appeal. If vets with [post-traumatic stress disorder] can get [an] upgrade like I did—now I have education, housing, medical, burial … I have everything. It’s a frickin’ miracle. … Later, I helped a couple other vets do the same.

How did you reinvent yourself?

I changed my name. I’m single now. I’m still a widow, but I’m out there as single. Changing it back to my real name, my maiden name, helped me find my identity. I was discharged in 1990. In 2011, my husband committed suicide. That was trauma. Now, I talk about it with Stop Stigma Sacramento, a county program with a speakers’ bureau who talk about their issues with schools, the Sheriff’s Department, hospitals. I talk about how my husband’s suicide affected me, which helps.

What other issues do vets face?

Most female veterans experience abuse or harassment in the military. Seven percent of men do. One of my papers talks about how the V.A. will treat abuse for six sessions, free, no matter the discharge. But they’re not doing anything about the problem itself. They’re not fixing the real issue. Housing is another one. Landlords won’t take our housing vouchers since they say Section 8 people come with problems. They pay a $10,000 discrimination fine because they can make that in a month with people moving here. … People with disabilities don’t deserve to live in substandard housing. … But that’s all we’re afforded in Sacramento.

How did you overcome the suicide?

My husband was working as a plumber during [Hurricane] Katrina. He drove drunk, lost control and broke his neck. He became a paraplegic and a few years later, shot himself. He couldn’t get services he needed. We never knew we could [go to the V.A.].

I was in California, working. After his accident, we lost our house and vehicles. My job fired me, with good reason. … He called me two days before he did it. He sounded happy and didn’t need anything. Two days later, I learned. That’s how they do it. But his suicide saved my life. It made me realize that life’s too short—that’s why I went to recreation therapy. To help people like me.

What was your addiction experience?

We used to laugh at the guys in treatment for marijuana addiction. It is real and it’s going to become a big problem. My friend was on 28 medications and now all he does is smoke pot—play video games, watch TV. … A lot of people are addicted to wine and Xanax and they think they’re different, because it’s prescribed. When I was having substance abuse and mental health issues, I turned my gun into the police. It feels like a demon. I had my gun out and loaded. Now, I’m 18 months clean and sober.