I suffer from depression myself, but that’s not why I started Vets to Vets United, Inc. I have a military background as an Air Force brat and Gold Star daughter. My father was a Tuskegee pilot killed while serving his tour of duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and my sister was also a Tuskegee pilot. I dedicated the program to both of them. I initially started it because I didn’t feel like I was fulfilling a mission from God. I prayed and asked God to give me something to do so that I could actually make a positive impact in our community. I love helping people. I’ve always volunteered in some type of way to help people.
Although I’m a veterinarian, I went back to school and got a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and for over 22 years I was involved in research. I kind of missed having animals involved in my life. I saw a TV show where they were using animals to rehabilitate prisoners and another one where they were using dogs to rehab veterans. I thought—wait a minute, we have a VA in Durham. We have over 700,000 veterans in North Carolina, and over 75,000 in the Triangle, and there was no program here that specifically helped veterans with mental disabilities using service dogs. And so I said, okay, there’s a need here, and not only could I have animals back in my life, not only could I save animals, I could help people at the same time.
We offer our services to veterans suffering from PTS, traumatic brain injury, depression, other mental health issues and physical disabilities. We also want to reach out to the community and support other groups who are suffering from mental health issues, and we want to support the research that saves so many people when they find new ways to treat these conditions.
The Foundation of Hope has allowed us to be able to provide our services totally free. A lot of veterans are on a very fixed income and some can’t afford to pay to have a service dog, which is very expensive—some organizations charge up to $50,000. We can provide them totally free. That includes training, supplies, food, veterinary care, anything they need. We’ve been able to do it totally free.
Without the Walk for Hope, without the Foundation of Hope, there’s no way we could provide these services.
As a result, we’ve seen veterans who are going back to school, who take their animals with them; one vet has gotten his B.S. and his master’s, and now he’s going for law school. He tried to commit suicide three times before that. His parents didn’t know what else to do to help him. But he’s flourishing with his dog. And we have two other veterans who are going back to school, others who are giving back to their community instead of staying home; we’re helping them train their animals to provide therapy visits to seniors, to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to people in hospitals, at the VA and in hospice at the VA.
We’ve gotten more support from your Foundation than from any one organization or entity.
And that’s how my prayer came true. That’s what I can use my gift for and see an immediate and direct impact on the people we’re serving.