MANSFIELD – Josh Sheriff’s childhood decision to serve in the army left him with PTSD, depression, addiction and plans to take his own life.
After almost a decade of highs and incomprehensible lows, Josh and his wife, Haley, have turned their pain into power by helping veterans overcome the effects of service through their charity and counseling program, Warrior’s Respite.
“It feels like there’s nothing to live for, there’s nothing to look forward to, there’s no relief in sight,” Josh said. “Hopelessness is something that just eats away at your soul.
“The shame from feeling like you’re failing as a husband and a father just adds to that, and so many veterans get trapped in that cycle until they finally lose their battle and they end it, and I don’t blame them because I ‘ve been there.”
Josh to Baghdad from 2008-2009, but said his trauma did not begin until the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. Two blocks away from the shooting, Josh remembers seeing people running, covered in blood, getting hit by cars while trying to escape former United States Army Major Nidal Hasan.
Hasan shot and killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others that day.
“I hated myself because I didn’t respond in the way that I had been trained to,” Josh said.
“I was with 200 other infantry men whose sole job, the entire purpose of our job, was to close with, engage in and destroy the enemy, and we were powerless to do anything because you’re not allowed to have any personal variants on base.”
“There were guys who charged Hasan, tried to take him out with little knives, pens, they did everything they could try and stop this guy, and I was sheltering in place with all these other guys.”
Josh got out of the Army in 2010 and met Haley in 2011 while she was a chaplain’s assistant at Fort Drum. While Haley served, Josh completed a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, specializing in Christian counseling, crisis counseling, resiliency and addictions and recovery counseling online through Liberty University.
Haley retired from the military in 2014, and the couple moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, where Liberty University is located, so Josh could pursue a master’s degree in clinical counseling.
Hopeful and excited about his future in counseling, Josh fell apart in his second semester of school after his psychiatrist failed to fill his PTSD medication.
Josh suffered from severe antidepressant withdrawal syndrome, which made it impossible for him to complete any of his school work, so he got kicked out of the program.
“I had finally found something that I was good at, that I could do with my physical disabilities, and that felt like God was calling me to, then all of a sudden, that was stripped away,” Josh said.
“All of a sudden I had no idea what I was doing anymore. I didn’t know what my purpose in life was, why I existed, anything.”
Josh felt like God abandoned him, so he planned to take his own life.
Haley was able to stop Josh’s attempt, but she was overwhelmed and scared of what her future with Josh would look like.
“I was a newlywed with a new baby, in a new location, going to a new school, and I just didn’t even know the first thing about how to help him,” Haley said.
“Everything was lost, he was a different person. We were fighting a lot because of everything. We were both scared, and didn’t know where to turn.”
A faith-based 12-week program for veterans and their families, REBOOT gave Josh and Haley a family of people who understood and had been working through similar struggles.
“Providence Farm saved our marriage, saved his life, and just helped us to be part of a community of veterans and their family members,” Haley said.
After Josh and Haley completed the course, they moved to Ohio in 2016 to be closer to family. One of the first things they did was look for a REBOOT course and found that there were none in the entire state.
Passionate about the positive change REBOOT had made in their lives, Josh and Haley began hosting REBOOT classes at Crossroads Community Church.
The couple led four rounds of REBOOT and were in the third week of their fifth when they got the call that the church was shutting down because of COVID-19.
This was a devastating blow to Josh, who once again felt like his sense of purpose was being ripped away.
“During that shutdown, with Josh having PTSD, all of his resources were taken away from him,” Haley said.
“That led to another mental breakdown for Josh, and I had to bring him to the emergency room because he had plans to end his life. But when he came back from hospital three days later, he started to develop the plans for Warrior’s Respite.”
Warrior’s Respite is built off of REBOOT, but also offers seven other specialized courses for veterans and their families. The courses range from topics of forgiveness, addiction and one for spouses of veterans.
While REBOOT has proven life-changing for countless families, including the Sheriffs, Josh and Haley want to give veterans more options to continue the healing process after the initial 12 weeks of counseling.
Warrior’s Respite began after the pandemic in 2021, and has since completed two full courses of REBOOT, and are working through a third that ends on Aug. 22.
Just as Providence Farm planted the seed in Josh and Haley, they hope that others will find themselves called to lead as well.
This has already been the case for one of Josh and Haley’s REBOOT graduates who are currently learning how to lead classes.
REBOOT classes meet every Monday for two hours at Storyside Church in Bellville. The first 30 minutes are dedicated to a meal the families can enjoy together, and the rest of the time is used for learning, sharing and understanding trauma.
“It is very easy for a lot of veterans to isolate themselves whenever something difficult happens,” Josh said. “We just shut down … we just deal with stuff until we can forget about it, but the problem is that it never actually goes away, we just learn to carry more weight.
“So one of the reasons for Warrior’s Respite is to provide that place where they can break down, they can feel safe enough to fall apart, and they know that they’re not going to be judged or discriminated against.”
Faith is at the center of everything Josh and Haley do. They hope that as they continue offering courses, families can find a place of hope and healing in the process of cementing their lives around God.
“I can’t even describe how thankful I am for what REBOOT did for us, so it feels so good to be able to give that to another family that really needs it,” Haley said.
As Josh and Haley get ready to start teaching the seven other courses, Josh is already planning two more – one for kids in veteran households and one that works with entire families.
The Sheriff’s end goal is to buy a property that they can turn into a sanctuary for veterans and their families from all over the country.
Josh said a key part of REBOOT is the comradery and the bonds that form from shared experiences. The Galion property they have in mind would give veterans a chance to be surrounded by men and women who can work together to heal.
Acceptance and acknowledgment can be a hard part of the healing process. Haley said it takes a certain kind of bravery to be willing to accept help, and while it can take some time to reach that point, she and Josh will be waiting, arms wide open, when veterans are ready to come forward.
“The same way you wouldn’t fault someone for going to get treatment for cancer, or to have a tumor removed from their brain is the same way you are not faulted for needing help with this,” Josh said.
“You can’t just wait for these problems to go away, because if that were the case, it would have already happened by now … There is hope, there is life waiting for you, you just have to be willing to do work. ”