Gold Star mom supports veterans.
Many people don’t realize that wounds that can’t be seen are just as real.
That’s what Iraq War veteran Gary Johnson, of Palm Coast, told those gathered at an event honoring Remembering Vets, a support organization, April 13 at the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce.
One of the goals of Remembering Vets is to install an Invisible Wounds Memorial in every county in Florida to raise awareness of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, known as TBI.
An eight-year veteran, Johnson said that when his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, he suffered TBI. He is losing his sight and has had PTSD.
“I can’t tell you how much I support what they are doing,” he said.
He told the audience that if they haven’t seen anyone with invisible wounds, “they have now.”
The first Invisible Wounds Memorial is planned to be installed at Heroes Memorial Park in Palm Coast on Nov. 11. The founder of Remembering Vets, Cathy Heighter, said the memorials will not only increase awareness, but also let those affected know they are not forgotten.
Johnson has founded Flagler Warriors Youth Football in Palm Coast, which is run by veterans.
“Cathy has our full support,” he said.
He will be the keynote speaker at a Remembering Vets dinner on April 23 at VFW Post 8696, 47 Old Kings Road, from 6 to 10 p.m.
Gold Star mother
Heighter’s son, Raheen Tyson Heighter, was killed in Iraq in 2003 while serving in the 101st Airborne Division.
That was the beginning of her first mission for veterans. She worked for two years as part of a Congressional legislative team and was successful in increasing both the gratuity benefit and life insurance for survivors of active duty soldiers in 2005.
“The gratuity helps parents take time off to deal with their child’s death,” she said.
She also started a scholarship program, which has raised $10,000, in honor of her son, who joined the military so he could get an education.
“My son’s goal was to get a four-year degree,” she said.
Other programs by Remembering Vets include Quilt of Honor, which has provided many donated quilts to veterans; and Keep Telling the Children, a planned initiative to bring veterans into classrooms.
“We want to educate young people on what the veterans’ service means to the county,” she said.
Ormond Beach connections
Janie Rocke, of Ormond Beach, has a son who served in Iraq as an Army combat medic and a grandson in Kuwait waiting to deploy to Iraq. She became involved with Remembering Vets after meeting Heighter at a VFW post.
“We both love our veterans,” she said. “She is phenomenal.”
Rocke fully believes in the need for the Invisible Wounds Memorial.
“I’ve known young men battling PTSD,” she said.
Vicki Leignadier, also of Ormond Beach, spent 31 years in the Army and retired in 2010 as a colonel.
She said she sees PTSD now that she works with veteran organizations. She and Heighter take part in Stand Downs for homeless veterans, where they can sign up for V.A. services, get food and clothing, etc.
“We are constantly trying to get people in to the V.A. system,” she said. “There’s a lot of help available.”