June 2015 Speaker – Freedom Dogs

Mission Statement:

Speeding the recovery and enhancing the lives of wounded military heroes through the use of specialty-trained service dogs

Freedom Dogs is a nonprofit organization devoted to serving wounded members of the military who are attempting to return to civilian life. Along with the trainers, the specialty service dogs provide both physical and emotional support, helping wounded warriors to successfully make this challenging transition.

Working closely with the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, the organization 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 the recovery process. If needed, the ‘Partner for Life Program’ matches a dog with a warrior for life.

Freedom Dogs is a fully registered 501(c)3 nonprofit. As a totally volunteer organization, no staff or trainers receive compensation for their work in the program.

History

A former critical care nurse in the Surgical ICU/ Trauma unit of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Medical Center, Beth Russell, RN, launched Freedom Dogs in 2006, later becoming its lead trainer and director. Both of her parents were veterans of World War II, so Russell had a great interest in working with the military.

In May of 2009, Freedom Dogs completed a pilot program with the Marine Corps’s Wounded Warrior Battalion-West at Camp Pendleton as requested by the Commandant of the Marine Corps. It paired specialty service dogs and their trainers with two Marines—becoming an indispensable part of the Marines’ rehabilitation and recovery from post-traumatic stress. This pilot was so successful it resulted in an ongoing close partnership between the Wounded Warrior Battalion – West (WWBn-W) and Freedom Dogs—the only one of its kind in the country.

Clients

The organization is “embedded” in the Wounded Warrior Battalion – West on Camp Pendleton, California. The Wounded Warrior Battalion – West directly assigns men and women in need of the educational training process, thorough follow-up, and continued support our program provides.

The close collaboration with the Wounded Warrior Battalion – West ensures the best chances for success.

For example, after each working team session with a Marine, the trainer files a report with the Marine’s health care provider. The Marines also file reports, describing their levels of anxiety, progress meeting goals, and plans for the future. The health care provider reviews all this information, further tailoring the Marine’s plan of care, as needed.

Nearly half of the 1.6 million warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking benefits for disabilities. Freedom Dogs is changing the lives of wounded warriors like these. Freedom Dogs strives mightily to reduce the impact of disabling conditions on the health, mood, social interaction, and employment of returning Marines.

Emotional Costs of War

For many military personnel, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are the signature injuries. Although largely invisible, both post-traumatic stress and TBI can have a devastating impact. For example, post-traumatic stress can cause flashbacks or nightmares, panic attacks, hypervigilance, or severe isolation.  Almost once an hour a veteran or service member dies as a result of suicide—fatalities that exceed the numbers incurred in actual battle.

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