Restoring peace

Jessica McCune, communications awareness manager. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted August 28, 2020 | By Susan Smiley-Height, Staff Writer

Hospice of Marion County shines a light on the national Soul Injury program

Beverly Lafferty, the director of volunteers, right, talks about OPUS Peace and Soul Injury with Debbie Shalko, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force Reserves and a veteran volunteer, left, and Rollin Schwab, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and a veteran volunteer. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

Rollin Schwab is a U.S. Navy veteran who has seen and experienced much in life, including service as a radioman and cryptologist, both on sea duty. As a volunteer with Hospice of Marion County (HMC), he is well versed with the Opus Peace and Soul Injury program, which is tied to the We Honor Veterans program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).

He said he has seen the impact of the Soul Injury program with local veterans as well as in his own life.

Jessica McCune, a registered nurse and licensed mental health counselor, and Community Awareness Manager with HMC, is on the board of Opus Peace, a national organization that has a mission to provide educational programs to healthcare providers and others who “help people reckon with the unassessed wound of Soul Injury, thereby liberating unmourned loss/hurt and unforgiven guilt/shame to restore personal peace.”

Soul Injury, according to the Opus Peace website, is described as “a wound to our sense of self—our real self beyond the façade—a wound that stifles full potential because it separates a person from who they are meant to be.”

“Soul Injury is a training program to enable volunteers, the general public and veterans to be more aware of how to support the healing of trauma, loss, grief, etc. (rejection, prejudice, marginalization, cruelty, financial stress…all of the curve balls life tosses to us),” McCune said.

“But this for everyone, not just veterans,” she stressed.

Deborah Grassman, founder of Opus Peace and Soul Injury, is a mental health nurse practitioner whose 30-year career at the Department of Veterans Affairs included serving as director of the hospice program and taking care of more than 10,000 dying veterans. She is a TEDx Talk presenter, including at the series hosted in Ocala, and is known for identifying the needs of veterans as they near the end of life, which has become the basis for NHPCO’s We Honor Veterans program.

According to McCune, veterans comprise 25 percent of HMC’s client population.

“The We Honor Veterans program was initiated in 2002 to specifically address end-of-life care for veterans, make sure they were getting the benefits they deserved and honoring their sacrifice and service,” she explained. “Specific care plans are needed for the different campaigns our vets have served in, such as WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan. The Vietnam vets are aging now and they are the population coming onto service and needing the support of health care providers. We Honor Veterans is many levels of competency for health care providers and HMC is very proud to have achieved Level V service, just as the pandemic took hold in March. Part of Level V status is a companywide indoctrination of Soul Injury. I teach basic principles for Soul Injury in a module for new employee and volunteer orientation each month at HMC.”

Jessica McCune, communications awareness manager. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

Schwab, who obtained a degree in animal husbandry after he left the military, and who retired to Ocala in 2000, said about the Soul Injury program, “It gets your mind thinking about some of the ramifications of when you age, some of the things that can happen in your thought process and how you can be mentally injured as well as physically. It’s a very worthwhile program, especially if you start to follow up and use some of the things that you learned.”

He said many veterans are “not as outspoken as you’d like them to be, and that they talk a language together that a non-veteran wouldn’t. And they’ll open up, especially as you carry on a conversation. It brings up subjects you experienced in your life, but you never realized what they really were.”

Four years after his wife Sandy passed away in 2013, Schwab found the program beneficial in his own life.

“I saw in myself some of the things that were pointed out in this program,” he noted. “I was experiencing some of the things and didn’t realize then what it was. But it certainly did help.”

McCune said it was important for her to understand the context of Opus Peace and Soul Injury for Marion County.

“The Hospice Foundation of America (HFA) produces educational materials about grief. Hospice of Marion County sponsors grief education programs by HFA annually, and probably has for over 20 years. I look for ways to incorporate art into my work as a grief therapist,” she explained. “When I saw the HFA postcard advertising the Soul Injury documentary film in 2017, I immediately recognized its power. Then I was blown away by the community response when I presented a community education event using the Soul Injury DVD. Afterward, one woman told me all the insights she learned. I thought, ‘Wow. People spend thousands of dollars in therapy trying to grasp what she discovered in 94 minutes.’”

She said it also is important for her to help resolve conflict and hurt, and added that Grassman has written two books, Peace at Last and The Hero Within.

“Both books comprise the DVD, Soul Injury. There is a second DVD, Liberating Unmourned Loss and a third one coming out on forgiveness,” she offered. “I have watched people spend thousands of dollars for therapy, which I support 100 percent. I wish everyone could find and afford a personal therapist or life coach. However, should that not be available, I am thrilled to find an $18 book called The Hero Within that has eight chapters (with exercises) that apply these principles for growth and resolution. For the motivated individual, there is so much power inside The Hero Within. I knew I wanted to apply these healing principles with others so we can all work together for peace.”

Beverly Lafferty, the director of volunteers, Jessica McCune, the communications awareness manager, Tom Howard a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a veteran volunteer, and Rollin Schwab, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and a veteran volunteer, left to right, talk about OPUS Peace and Soul Injury at Hospice of Marion County. Opus Peace and Soul Injury is part of We Honor Veterans, a program of National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Veterans comprise 25 percent of Hospice of Marion County’s client population. The We Honor Veterans program was initiated in 2002 to specifically address end-of-life care for veterans, make sure they were getting the benefits they deserved and honoring their sacrifice and service. OPUS Peace is really for everyone in Hospice of Marion County, McCune said. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

“Interestingly, these simple principles for finding peace, managing stress, loss or disappointment plus resolving conflict were learned from those trained for war,” she observed. “Yes, the Soul Injury movement was created/discovered in a VA hospice unit, but the veterans did not waste their suffering. As they found peace at last, they created this process, or path, to peace, for everyone. The veterans gave us a gift. From those trained for war, lessons of peace have been given to all of us.”

Former HMC chief executive officer Mary Ellen Poe serves with McCune on the board of Opus Peace.

“The founders worked with multitudes of veterans over their careers and identified ways to alleviate burdens soldiers carried for years,” she said. “Today, these same techniques can be applied to other situations. In fact, Jessica has worked with a company’s employees following a suicide of someone connected to them and with family following the death of a baby. Those are only a couple of positive impacts made in the Ocala area.”

As another extension of HMC’s We Honor Veterans programming, the agency hosts a quarterly Veterans Café.

HMC’s Director of Volunteers, Beverly Lafferty, said Monday during a Veterans Café gathering at the agency’s Elliott Center, attended by Schwab and another volunteer, Tom Howard, a veteran of the US Marine Corps, that they “offer it for all veterans in our community so they have a place to come and talk, share stories, socialize and enjoy refreshments.”

To learn more about the many programs of HMC, go to

For information about Opus Peace, visit www.opuspeace/org.

See Grassman’s TEDx Ocala talk at below.

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