GALLIPOLIS — The Gallipolis Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4464 is holding a “Circle of Healing” event at 6 p.m. March 23 to serve veterans and their families who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jonathon Lawhorn, 33, of Gallipolis, passed away in January at Holzer Medical Center. Fellow Gallia Academy High School classmate Brittany Beman, a long-term substitute teacher at Washington Elementary and friend of Lawhorn, upon hearing of Lawhorn’s passing, gathered fellow 2001 graduates, friends and families to gather funds to donate to veterans’ causes in Lawhorn’s memory.
The group raised $300 and was originally going to donate the money to the Wounded Warrior Project, but upon hearing local Veterans of Foreign Wars members speak, the group decided the money would best be used locally.
Money was donated to VFW Military Assistance Program. One-hundred percent of the money goes to helping veterans without administrative fees. Local VFW members have helped veterans make car and house payments among a few of the issues facing local veterans. Money has also been used to help provide for veteran family holiday events.
“Jon was just the kind of guy that could light up a room with a smile,” Beman said. “He wanted to get involved with the VFW.”
Beman said it was touching to hear VFW members speak at Lawhorn’s funeral and that was where she and Lawhorn’s mother, Christine Lawhorn, felt it would be best to spend the money raised locally.
According to VFW Commander Bill Mangus, Lawhorn was the youngest member of the Gallipolis post at the time of his death. In honor of Lawhorn’s memory, and for all those who have suffered from PTSD, the Gallipolis VFW is hosting a support event for families and veterans searching to speak with professionals and peers.
Lawhorn served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and Iraq. He received several medals and commendations for his service in the field. Lawhorn was a combat medic and was trained in the art of treating battle wounds and saving lives in the field.
According to Mangus and colleague VFW member Tom Abrahamson, Woodland Centers members are donating time to speak with veterans who might wish to share their experiences in the field. Fellow veterans are also going to be present to speak about their experiences. The event is free and open to veterans, as well as supporting families and friends.
“If we can save one person struggling with PTSD from potential suicide, this whole thing will have been worth it,” Mangus said.
Both Mangus and Abrahamson are veterans of the Vietnam War. Mangus served in the U.S. Army while Abrahamson served in the U.S. Navy. Both believe veterans heal better from harrowing experiences by speaking with fellow veterans. Neither of them advocate the use of drugs to treat PTSD. Therapy and sharing experiences with those who have been through similar circumstances is a route both of the VFW members recommend.
Mangus said that young veterans have often asked him what it was like being in a “real war.” Mangus replies to them that if you were shot at, you were in a “real war.” To him, “there is no such thing as my war was worse than your war.”
Both Abrahamson and Mangus have emphasized that the best remedy for young veterans who are struggling is to speak with colleague veterans. It does not matter what time period or conflict served, every veteran can appreciate the circumstances under which another veteran has served, especially combat veterans. The pair encourage young veterans to meet with older veterans in the hopes of bridging a generational gap.
“Don’t be afraid to open to a trusted vet,” Mangus said. “It’s not weakness because you might cry. You have brothers that understand.”
Both he and Abrahamson understand the symptoms of PTSD. Both told the Tribune that those suffering from PTSD often suffer low self-esteem, they feel the world is against them, individuals feel like a failure and some feel that life is not worth living.
VFW members emphasize that until people have “walked in their shoes” in a war zone to be careful in how they judge an individual struggling with PTSD.
PTSD has, in the past, been referred to as “shell shock” or “combat neurosis.” According to some studies, 22 veterans take their lives every day. Some say that a veteran suicide occurs roughly every 65 minutes. Some have said flashbacks can be triggered by helicopter engines or by fireworks blasts.
Both Mangus and Abrahamson told the Tribune that vets can know another person who has seen combat by the “thousand yard stare.”
“We need to get those (terrible thoughts) out of people’s heads,” Mangus said. “If this can stop one person from making a decision they can never take back, we consider that a mission accomplished.”
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.