Helping Wounded Warriors
Suicide rates in the United States have increased in the past 20 years and the rate is even higher among members of the military and veterans of post-9/11 wars. According to a 2021 study by Brown University, an estimated 30,177 active-duty personnel and veterans of the post 9/11 wars have died by suicide, significantly more than the 7,057 service members killed during post-9/11 combat. “Multiple factors cause the high suicide rates, some inherent to fighting in a war and others unique to America’s “war on terror” framework,” Thomas Howard Suitt, III reported. “The high suicide rates are due to risks common to fighting any war: high exposure to trauma, stress, military culture and training, continued access to guns, and the difficulty of reintegrating into civilian life.”
And that is where Freedom Dogs comes in. A nonprofit organization designed to serve wounded military members with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and/or other physical impairments, Freedom Dogs helps these warriors successfully transition back to civilian life or, in some cases, return to active duty through the assistance of specialty service dogs, by providing physical and emotional support.
Working closely with active military and veterans in Southern California, Freedom Dogs provides custom-trained dogs through two free programs. The Partner Program pairs a dog and trainer team with a warrior to complement rehabilitation and assist in recovery. The Partner for Life Program matches a dog with a warrior for life if needed.
For Matt, a military member for 18 years, Freedom Dogs has returned his independence. “It is crazy it is called Freedom Dogs because that is exactly what they do. My wife Jordan was my ‘service dog’ before,” he laughed. “I absolutely could not, go anywhere without her. Now the dogs have given me my freedom back.” Instead of hyper-focusing on potential threats around him, Matt now focuses on his dog’s needs. Matt said Freedom Dogs helps him to decompress and deal with stress. Going to the Freedom Dogs Training Center is one of the highlights of his week.
“Before Freedom Dogs, my life was chaos. I could not cope with anxiety and stress in a healthy manner whatsoever, to the point that I took all of that out on my family,” Matt shared with GB Magazine. “Driving was miserable for my kids and my wife. They were all scared to go out with me because they knew an explosion would happen.”
Since he started working with Freedom Dogs, Matt says he is more relaxed and looks at situations differently. “I have not felt like me in a long time. At our Freedom Dogs class, I am able to do things without anxiety and have a good time. During a recent training exercise, I smiled the whole time, giggling like a little kid. We are training the dogs, but in reality, the dogs are training us how to behave, breathe and relax. It has truly changed my life and my family’s life.”
Matt’s wife, Jordan, agrees. “Matt is no longer dreading going out like he used to, which is great for our family because we would have to cancel a lot when he had bad days,” she shared. “The dogs bring out the Matt that he was before – the playfulness.”
Find out more about Freedom Dogs at www.freedomdogs.org.