Finding Healing, Hope


THE VILLAGES — When Samantha’s White’s sweetheart, Jason, returned home from Iraq, she knew he wasn’t the same.

“Even though my husband didn’t come back without a limb, he lost himself mentally,” the Ocala resident said. “He’s not the same person. He can find coping techniques, but that war is always going to be with him.”

Jason shares this horrifying new reality with many. Ninety-eight percent of post-9/11 veterans sustained serious mental health problems and physical injuries, according to a 21,120-veteran study released last week by the Wounded Warrior Project.

Of the top five injuries listed in the report, four stemmed from mental and emotional conditions. For 61 percent of the veterans, emotional problems significantly interfered with normal social activities with family and friends.

As the youngest generation of veterans transitions out of the military and into civilian life, many need the community’s help — the kind of support found around The Villages.

“I think what these veterans need is mentoring and support,” said Jen Elliott, founder of Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, a Villager-supported, nonprofit in Ocklawaha that trains veterans for equine jobs. “I always tell them I’m 1,000 percent on their side. Sometimes they cry when I say that because they don’t have that.”

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