Army Veteran & HBU Online Student Aims To Help Fellow Veterans

US Army Veteran Jonathan Bohannon doesn’t hesitate when asked if he believes that healing from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is possible.

“Yes, definitely – 100 percent,” he says.

Bohannon is a student in HBU’s Online program, earning a Master of Arts in Psychology. He knows first-hand the kind of challenges that military members and veterans face. Bohannon joined the Army in 2006, and trained for the work of being a combat medic. He went on to be stationed overseas, and completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. For his service, he received a Combat Medical Badge.

When he finished his service in 2012, the husband, and now father of three, set a plan for what he would do next at home in Houston.

“I was set on going to school to become a nurse,” he said. “When I was taking anatomy and physiology and looking at pictures of trauma, it started bringing me back to those memories of what I had seen and experienced. It started out with nightmares and bad coping. At the time, I was drinking to cope. I had to come to terms with everything.”

Bohannon attended veterans support groups, and with God’s prompting, quit drinking. He switched his major to psychology, deciding to focus on helping people heal from the inside out. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston. When he learned about HBU’s master’s program with a Christian emphasis, Bohannon was thrilled.

He describes his experience — one he has in common with many others: “When you go over there, something wakes up,” he said. “There’s that old saying, ‘There is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.’ Then, when you come back, you ask yourself, ‘Why me? Why did I get to come home when some of my buddies didn’t?’ There is a void spiritually. It doesn’t matter how many medications they throw at you, or how many psychological sessions you have.”

A faith-foundational approach, including a relationship with Jesus Christ, is what servicemen and women really need, Bohannon said. That’s why he likes HBU’s program.

“The secular counseling system can sometimes feel chaotic and confusing,” he said. “HBU has their ear to the ground, and are being trailblazers. There’s so much potential for veteran care in the Christian context. That’s why I chose HBU Online to navigate those waters.”

There are a number of factors to consider when working with military professionals. One of the first things servicepeople must come to terms with upon returning to civilian life is adjusting to a different environment, Bohannon said.

“When you’re in the military, you have a mission, you look out for each other, and everyone knows you’re a solider,” he said. “You come back, you have to find your way and you don’t have anyone looking out for you.”

However, trials have a silver lining. Bohannon refers to the work of Dr. George Bonanno, author of “The Other Side of Sadness,” and a professor at Columbia University, who asserts that traumas can widen one’s capacity to handle hardship. Difficulties can develop resiliency and emotional flexibility.

“One example is Jesus Christ,” Bohannon said. He explained that after Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and being tempted in the wilderness – perhaps the most difficult time in his life up to that point – Jesus began the most fruitful time of his life and ministry. “He had a mission. His mission was to bring His Father’s Word down,” Bohannon said.

Bohannon reflects on his own struggles: “I am a veteran with PTSD. The minute I acknowledged my PTSD, I was able to turn to God. Being aware of the problem helps people not to be in denial, and therefore they are able to work toward resiliency,” he said. “I am here to fight for other veterans with PTSD.”

Similarly, Bohannon wants to see good coming after veterans’ challenging and painful experiences. He asserts that veterans want to be understood, but they also simply want to have a mission.

“I advise getting them involved in church or volunteer service,” Bohannon said. “It’s what they want — to serve — that’s why they joined the military. They don’t want to be coddled. They want to be challenged and they want to meet people who aren’t just in bars. They want to see what’s on the other side of the tunnel.”

There are many challenges to overcome in military and veteran care, particularly the suicide rate and unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse. Yet, Bohannon is optimistic.

“We need to get to some of these people before it’s too late,” he said. “We need a holistic approach. There’s a lot of work to be done, and that’s why I want to be part of their care. They need to know that life gets better.”

© 2018 Houston Baptist University