Joan Cary 2017-10-16 14:20:06
Wounded Warriors Heal Together // Twenty veterans a day commit suicide in the U.S. No matter where they served—Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan—thousands more face a daily struggle with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, trying to adjust to life after time in the military. The Saratoga Springs Lions in New York, a club of 105, including more than 15 veterans, is working hard to address that, says Lion Bill Gibeault, who is spearheading his club’s support for Saratoga WarHorse. Saratoga WarHorse is a nonprofit that matches two unlikely but weary warriors—a racehorse and a veteran—and helps them create a healing bond. The organization’s founder, Bob Nevins, a Vietnam veteran, discovered some years ago that the two have much in common. Both lived a life of high anxiety, working in stressful situations, and both are adjusting to starting out new. Introducing one to the other can heal men and women who suffer the psychological wounds of war, and also give a meaningful job back to thoroughbreds whose racing days are done, he says. Nevins, who served as a medevac pilot in the 101st Airborne Division and flew hundreds of rescue missions across Vietnam, has been awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses for Heroism, a Purple Heart, a Soldiers Medal and 10 Air Medals. Retired after 24 years as an airline captain, he became aware of the vast numbers of veterans who suffer depression and PTSD, as well as the veteran suicide rate, which jumped 32 percent from 2001 to 2014. And importantly, he knew that working with horses was most soothing to him when he returned from the war. In 2011, Nevins founded Saratoga WarHorse, and since then more than 600 veterans from across the country have graduated from his cost-free, three-day program in Saratoga and also South Carolina. In the program, veterans— most with no equine experience—work daily with one horse, building trust, resetting the emotional circuits in the brain that have disconnected or shut down, says Nevins. Saratoga Lions and veterans Russ Terpening and Mike Stoneback got to experience the program firsthand. Terpening, a 70-year-old veteran who served as a medic in Vietnam, building tunnels and clearing mines and jungles, oftentimes finding soldiers already dead when he got to them, saw a WarHorse poster that said “Having Trouble Sleeping?” “It never dawned on me before, but I was. And now I’m not,” he says. For more than 30 years he attributed restless nights to too much adrenaline from being a police officer, a job he took on shortly after returning from the war. After three days in the program, learning about horse behavior and working with Kit, a 1,000 pound thoroughbred, he became more comfortable with the horse and the horse with him. Then on the final evening, “He came and laid his head on my shoulder,” recalls Terpening. “That’s when the transition takes place.” “The horse trusts you. It makes a connection with you, and what you see with a lot of vets is that they lose the connection. It’s hard to explain, but it’s amazing.“ Gibeault says the Saratoga Lions were onboard with Nevin’s mission shortly after he visited a club meeting. Now they want to spread word of his work nationwide and send proceeds from their expanding “Save a Vet” program his way. Before the club’s annual Memorial Day Duathlon, they sold more than 600 $7 flags printed with a veteran’s name and displayed them at the race before sending them on a “Freedom Flag Tour” around town. Lions hope to expand on that every year. “What we would like to do is reach into the smaller communities where vets are and let them know this program is out there to help them,” says Gibeault. “We are trying to be an outreach ambassador for them.” Appreciative of the Lions’ support, Nevin says, “Everyone has one of these veterans right in their own backyard. Whether a Lion can donate or not doesn’t matter. What matters is getting the word out and not losing 22 veterans a day.” Says Lion Mike Stoneback, “Russ and I, we’re Vietnam vets. Once we got out of the military, we didn’t talk about it. We were so poorly received by the public that when you got home you just put it away. But a lot of guys came home with problems, and problems don’t just go away.” “We [Lions] support a lot of causes,” Stone-back says. “This is another one that feels right. Losing our vets to emotional distress is not right. If we can save just one, we’re a success.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Less+Wounded/2909088/445205/article.html.