COEUR D’ALENE – It’s been five years since John Scholz was honorably discharged from the military.
The Army infantry veteran served in Afghanistan and twice in Iraq. He sustained injuries, visible and non-visible, during the more than five years he was enlisted.
“Even though I trust everybody here, you probably still notice me looking over my shoulder,” he said, standing with his wife, Amber, and their small children on a sandy beach at Camp Lutherhaven.
“It’s even worse when I’m in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people,” he said. “I do not do crowds well, and I can’t even go to Costco for more than 10 minutes, especially alone. Without (Amber) I probably wouldn’t do very well.”
John, of Coeur d’Alene, is not alone in his post-traumatic stress disorder and haunting memories of service. During the North Idaho Veteran Retreat, he’s surrounded by other veterans who can relate to the pain.
“The people that are here also understand the situation that they may have gone through,” said Army veteran Randy Beat, one of the retreat organizers. “We can commiserate and understand each other. We might not have walked the exact same ground, but we’ve walked in the same boots.”
The veteran retreat, in its fourth year, is funded and facilitated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 889 and the VFW Post 889 Auxiliary with support from generous partners to provide a long weekend of peace, camaraderie and security to veterans and their families at no cost. The camp is about $55 to $65 per person.
About 15 families are spending three nights and four days in the tranquility of the camp, enjoying opportunities to make friends, play on Lake Coeur d’Alene, hike in the woods, zip down the zip line, climb the climbing wall or simply sit back and relax.
“The overall intent of the whole weekend is for the family to be able to take a breath,” said Beat, a former officer and present active member of Post 889. “We’ve found that over the years, families want to come back and become a part of the community and stay connected.”
Beat’s fiancee and retreat co-organizer Helena Rouhe, a licensed therapist who also runs Blue Moon Mending, said the schedule is kept pretty loose so everyone can enjoy their weekend without feeling pressured into participating in different activities, although group dining and hikes are offered.
“Being able to have stuff they can do, but also the freedom to move around, has given them the opportunities to strike up conversations and get to know each other in a more organic way,” she said. “We are building additional support systems for these families so they have community-structured places to go.”
Samantha and Air Force veteran Donovan Ayers of Post Falls attended the retreat last year and loved it so much they volunteered to help this year. The couple moved to north Idaho in 2015 and learned of the retreat when they joined the VFW and the Auxiliary.
“It created a family, so to say,” Samantha said. “We got connected with people that have stayed in our lives and stayed a part of birthdays, Christmas, holidays. It helped us kind of heal knowing that we’re not the only ones.”
She said many of the families have never experienced a care-free weekend where everything is paid for and they don’t have to worry about anything.
“They get to do whatever they want and really bond together. When you have a healthy, happy family, the PTSD is something that is addressed. That is the whole purpose behind this camp,” she said. “For the VFW too, this is what our mission is, and this is what we should be doing, exactly what we’re here today to do. That’s the most important thing.
“It’s great getting them Christmas gifts, it’s great getting the resources and the references that they need,” she said, “but the true healing happens when they’re in an environment like this in north Idaho.”