New substance abuse center for active duty military and veterans opens in Wasilla

A blue building with many windows sits on a vibrant, green lawn.
The clinical building at Wasilla’s new center for substance abuse recovery, Banyan Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Banyan Alaska)

A new substance abuse treatment center primarily for veterans and active military service members opened last week in Wasilla. The center, Banyan Alaska, has space for 24 people. Participants will stay on campus and have access to staff around the clock, but the treatment is less intensive than other residential treatment programs. 

According to the Alaska Mental Health Trust, about one in nine Alaskans need treatment for a drug or alcohol problem. But there’s only treatment space for a fraction of that population. 

Sam Garcia, a community liaison for Banyan Alaska, said people often have to leave Alaska for treatment.

“Now if you get sent out of state,” he said, “that means you’re leaving your family, your kids, your sober support. And I don’t believe you have to do that to get help.”

Garcia said the center tries to hire people with military experience and people in sobriety to work with patients. He said their staff is about 90% veterans and many staff members, including Garcia, are in recovery. 

“When you’re in a treatment center, and you’re working with somebody that has been through something similar, it makes you more effective at being able to reach them and meet them where they’re at,” he said.

Garcia said substance abuse issues and addiction often carry stigma and shame. And, he said, veterans and military service members may be especially vulnerable. 

“There’s a lot of fear behind voicing that you are having an issue or having this label put on you,” he said. “So, we’re trying to make a safe place for people to say, ‘Hey, I need some help,’ and then be able to get back to life.”

Garcia said being able to stay in Alaska for treatment may mean people reach out for help earlier. He said people don’t need to hit rock bottom before they find treatment. 

Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Rachel here.

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