Karen Vaughn knows firsthand the pain of losing a loved one in the service of the nation.
Her son, Aaron Carson Vaughn, was a member of the elite of the elite – Navy SEAL Team 6 – and one of 30 American Special Forces personnel killed when their Chinook helicopter with call sign Extortion 17 was shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2011.
Since the death of her son, Karen and her husband, Billy, have been tireless advocates not only for service members defending the nation – urging changes to crippling rules of engagement, for example – but also for the children of fallen heroes who are left behind.
Aaron’s wife, Kimberly, is now a single mother to Karen’s two grandchildren.
The void created for such children is the reason Karen, who has appeared before Congress and was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention in 2016, is endorsing a new venture called Healing the Wounds.
“Who’s going to teach these kids to do the things their dads taught them to to do?” she asked in an interview with WND. “These weren’t normal men. These were extreme men.”
Vaughn, the author of the bestselling book “World Changer: A Mother’s Story,” has hosted with her husband weekend retreats for children who have lost a parent to war and recruited father figures for them.
The grief of these children needs to be acknowledged by the nation “or they feel betrayed,” she said.
“Without their fathers’ or mothers’ sacrifice, we’re not free,” she said. “This is just a given. It has to be fought for and protected. It’s critically important that we let these people know that a grateful nation is there for them.”
The newly founded Healing the Wounds, with the backing of prominent military veterans, former government officials and the chief of police of a major city, aims to come alongside children who have lost a parent serving in law enforcement or the military with long-term mentoring and support.
Healing the Wounds founder and president Jeff M. Epstein told WND the programs will include an Alaskan adventure and learning experience, a 24-hour support call center, access to a vast custom video learning library and career mentoring.
Epstein said the new organization is seeking partners in its mission is to “empower the youth to become successful and responsible citizens” through opportunities that “build character, self-confidence and leadership skills.”
“We want our members to take an active role in achieving the mission, being part of the solution,” he said.
Vaughn, who has joined the advisory board of Healing the Wounds, said that “to have men speak into the lives of these kids is extremely powerful.”
She sees Healing the Wounds as a complement to the efforts of she and her husband to provide male role models for children who have lost a parent in the service, attending their games and graduations, and spending time with them.
“These moms need support, they need male role models. We know that men bring the firm hand to their homes. Many of these moms are left flailing,” Vaughn said.
She said it’s typical for such children to be put on ADD medication by Veterans Administration health care, and she’s seen them become free of the drugs because of the presence of “firm father figures” in their lives.
“Most people do not realize these kids experience PTSD very much like their parents,” she said. “They’re ousted from the military base to a society in which more than 99 percent have not been engaged in the reality of this war.”
On retreat weekends for the children the Vaughns have been running, she’s seen “the unexpected” happen.
“We would have never expected that emotional problems could be restored in one weekend,” she said.
Vaughn explained that it’s often the first time these children have been around others whose fathers have died serving the country, and there’s “an instant bond because of the empathy.”
Many of the pre-teens, in particular, are working through anger issues, she pointed out.
When they’re told they “must be so proud of their father,” sometimes the response is negative, Vaughn explained, because the perception in their young minds and hearts is that their father chose the country over them.
Vaughn told of a 17-year-old who earned the trust of an 8-year-old over a weekend and was able to tell him he understood his anger, because he felt that way, too, when he was that age.
“But, now,” he told his young friend, “I know my father was a hero.”
Along with Vaughn, Healing the Wounds’ advisory board includes retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney; retired Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin; Vietnam POW Col. Ken Cordier; former chief investigative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee David Schippers; retired U.S. Army captain and Green Beret Mykel Hawke, the star of the Discovery Channel’s “Man, Woman, Wild” and “One Man Army”; Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La.; and Detroit’s chief of police, James Craig.
Epstein said he hopes citizens who share his vision will become members and sponsors.
“While so much of society is laser-focused on what is wrong,” he said, “we are taking a positive approach by focusing on the possible – by equipping the teenagers with the skills, attitudes, habits and behaviors that will ensure their success.”
See Healing the Wounds founder Jeff M. Epstein present his vision for helping the children of America’s slain heroes: