‘I realized once again that I had purpose’: New veterans program aimed at growth, healing comes to SC

BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. (WIS) - A program aimed at helping combat veterans and first responders achieve post-traumatic growth just launched in South Carolina.

It’s only in eight other states nationwide.

The Warrior PATHH Program is the latest to be launched at the Big Red Barn Retreat in Blythewood, a place of peace and healing for veterans which opened in 2014. Through equine-assisted psychotherapy, yoga and tai chai, and other healing sessions, veterans are able to find non-clinical healing.

The Big Red Barn Retreat welcomed its first group of veterans to the Warrior PATHH program a few weeks ago. The participants in the program came to the facilities for a seven-day intensive retreat that is followed by an 18-month program.

Lamont Christian, the director of the Warrior PATHH Program and a United States Army Veteran, said the program transforms veterans' post traumatic stress into post traumatic growth by transforming the outlook a veteran has on their struggle and purpose.

“This program allows the individual to recognize that there’s nothing wrong with me -- it’s just what happened,” Christian said.

Christian served in the Army as a Command Sergeant Major for 33 years, retiring in 2018. As a graduate of the program himself, he said he understands the struggle veterans face.

“I thought I would be able to spend that time enjoying retirement,” Christian said. “About a month after retirement -- I have four children, one of my children committed suicide and took her life.”

He said he coached others in the military for decades on how to deal with loss, but he struggled with how to cope.

“When it came to my own family, what I was unable to do is to help the rest of my family get through this process of grieving,” Christian said. “So I began to do what I call ‘being in the zone.’”

Christian said when he went into the zone, to his friends and family it looked like he was in solitude, but he said in reality he was retreating into isolation.

He said while struggling with this loss, he felt as if he had lost his direction. He said the Warrior PATHH Program helped him to recognize these struggles and overcome them.

“I realized once again that I had purpose, and I could find a way to provide myself self care,” Christian said.

Sutton Shaw, the volunteer Director of the Big Red Barn, said the program is the eighth of its kind in the nation.

“It was the perfect program, and when I saw this program existing in Virginia and Arizona, I was like, we have to have this in South Carolina,” Shaw said. “I mean we have 425,000 veterans.”

Shaw said the measurable impact of the program is moving.

“PTSD symptoms are reduced by 56%, their personal relationships are improved by over 40%,” Shaw said of the data gathered on the other Warrior PATHH program locations.

It’s something Christian said he experienced first hand.

“When you start to achieve this post-traumatic growth, you start to recognize that you can have deeper relationships,” Christian said.

Christian is now helping other veterans find this growth and purpose.

The Big Red Barn holds a Warrior PATHH retreat once a month, alternating between male and female groups of veterans.

Big Red Barn Retreat Director Sutton Shaw says the annual cost to support the Warrior PATHH program is between $600,000 and $800,000.

For more information on how to give or volunteer to the Big Red Barn Retreat, click or tap here.

Shaw said the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation recently awarded a grant to the program. They’ve also received support from various other companies and individuals including South Easter Freight Lines, United Health Care, and Gov. Henry McMaster.

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