An opportunity to heal

the Olympic Mountains sleeping in a private cabin. An evening sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows. Days spent playing softball and sitting in the sun.
This could be any summer weekend with the family. But for veterans and the families, it’s much more. It’s a chance to face the challenges of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a safe environment.
It’s the Lions Club Project New Hope Northwest program.
“It’s a weekend retreat for combat veterans and their families,” said Ed Kane, Lions public relations director. “It’s a time for them to face their issues under the guidance of workshop leaders and professional counselors.”
Now in its third year, Project New Hope Northwest, is offered by the Lions Multiple District 19. For a weekend, veterans and their families come together for recreation and fellowship. The aim is to help veterans deal with PTSD.
An it does.
Just ask Veteran Kevin McMains, of Eatonville.
“I fought going,” he said. “My fiance wanted to go, but I was still stuck in the mode of not wanting to leave the house. I didn’t want to be around people.”
But when his fiance, Jewel, said she was going with or without him, he got in the car.
“I ended up going and I’m so glad I did. It helped out a lot.”
McMains, 32, served in the Army for 11 years and was a sergeant stationed in Bagdad from October 2006 to November 2007 when he was hit by a 120mm rocket, injuring his spine. For a time, he was paralyzed and spent more than a year recovering at Ft. Hood, Texas. Once he was able to, he and his fiance returned to his home state of Washington where they are raising their blended family of five children, ages 11, 9, 8, and two 6 year olds.
When in Iraq, McMains’ work included overseeing the helipad where helicopters landed with injured soldiers. He was often the first person to speak to them to get their identification and alert their families back home that they had been injured.
“Every day I was face-to-face with the injured, trying to get them to talk to me,” he said. “It took a toll.”
Besides his physical injuries that include a traumatic brain injury, McMains has been diagnosed with PTSD. His life since he was retired from the military in 2008, has been difficult.
And, because his fiance was not part of his life until after his injuries, things have been even more stressed.
“She wasn’t a part of the typical military life,” he said. “She didn’t understand a lot of what I was going through. She only saw me on the recovery side.”
That was one reason why she pushed him to go to the Project New Hope weekend.
There, she was able to talk with other wives of veterans with PTSD, McMains said.
“She was able to learn ways to deal with my PTSD,” he said. “She bonded with other spouses and they helped her understand everything from the military acronyms to the warning signs that an episode (of PTSD) might be coming on.”
The sessions helped McMains too.
“I learned what to do when I felt myself getting out of control,” he said. “It was like getting tools for the tool box. It’s a way of learning what to do when you feel yourself getting out of control.”
The weekend camp meant a lot to his children, too.
“Especially my 11-year-old daughter,” he said. “She’s old enough that she knows what war is. She was able to talk to other kids about what she saw happening in our family and learn that she was not alone.”
Project New Hope is a service to veterans that the Lions are proud to be sponsoring.
“I think we are critically limited in our knowledge and awareness of PTSD and how it is affecting our service members and their families,” said Jack Ford, a member of the Lions board and a retired naval officer and combat veteran. “And it’s something that’s not going away.”
This summer there will be three sessions, July 19-21, Aug. 23-25, and Sept. 13 to 15.
Families are housed in lake-side rooms and can attend several counseling sessions and participate in activities such as a zip line, horseback riding and crafts.
Workshops are offered with professional counselors who will meet with veterans. The sessions are designed to bring out comments and feelings about their transition to ordinary life and address how to cope with the issues that come out. If intense feelings are drawn out, there are opportunities for veterans to meet individually with counselors in a private setting, Kane said.
Veterans, like McMains, who have participated have found they are regaining some control to their emotional responses. Some have returned for another weekend and others have come back to help out.
All of the sessions are run by volunteers. Each weekend costs $4,500 to $5,500 for up to 10 families. Donations have come from the Nisqually Tribe and the Madigan Foundation and from individual Lions Clubs in the Multiple District 19.
Veterans wanting to register to attend can do so at Donations can be made through the website and volunteers can register to help.
McMains is glad that he decided to attend a camp.
“I went in apprehensive and I came out with a smile on my face,” he said.