When Army Spc. Sean LaPersonerie was deployed to Iraq, his mother Marie worried about his well-being. When he returned to his Copiague home 14 months later, the concerns multiplied.
"He was emotional, angry, breaking things," she said. "We didn't know what to do with him." She feared he was suicidal. "I would check the garage to see if he was hanging in there," she said.
Sean was suffering from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, his mother says, but he refused to seek assistance, and his family watched as his behavior spiraled out of control. Now, Marie LaPersonerie is working with Babylon Town to help others struggling with a loved one with PTSD.
In September, the town plans to launch Sean's Hope, a workshop for families dealing with PTSD. Led by Deer Park therapist Jean Bacon, the six-week program will be held Wednesday nights from 7 to 8 at the Spangle Drive Senior Center.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, about 7.7 million American adults age 18 and older have PTSD. Symptoms include nightmares, emotional numbness, intense feelings of guilt, worry or anger and violent outbursts.
Lauren Van Kirk, director of the senior center and a friend of Marie LaPersonerie, said the workshop will not be a counseling session, but rather an educational workshop to help families understand PTSD and find resources. It will also be an opportunity for those who want to share their PTSD experiences.
"A lot of people don't know what PTSD is and how it manifests itself in different ways," Van Kirk said. "It may not be picking up a TV and hurling it. It may be becoming a hermit."
The free workshop will not be limited to combat-related PTSD, said Town Councilman Tom Donnelly, who along with Councilwoman Ellen McVeety spearheaded the workshop.
"This is a national problem, and it's not just limited to veterans," Donnelly said. "We're trying to help all families in the town who have been exposed to traumatic events."
A Copiague High School graduate, Sean LaPersonerie enlisted in the Army in 2008 and was honorably discharged in 2011 after receiving four Meritorious Service Medals. When he came home, he spoke little of his time in Iraq, his family said. But the heavy field artillery operator did tell them of one incident. He said he watched as a good friend was shot and killed by a sniper.
LaPersonerie had little time to come to grips with his buddy's death. In January, LaPersonerie died after being hit by a car while crossing East Main Street in Babylon Village. He was 24.
Marie LaPersonerie said she doesn't want Sean's PTSD suffering to be in vain and hopes the workshop helps those seeking information and the support of others in similar situations.
"Sean was in denial, and there wasn't anything for the families," she said. "We suffered along with him. This would have helped me."
Those interested in the workshop can call Donnelly's office at 631-957-3081.