Tags Posts tagged with "PTSD"

PTSD

Photo by Julianne Mosher

After months of waiting for its official unveiling, the Joseph P. Dwyer statue was celebrated by local, state and federal representatives in an emotional event to honor the man who lost his life for a serious cause. 

On Saturday, June 26, at 11 a.m., people gathered at Rocky Point Veterans Memorial Square on the corner of Route 25A and Broadway where a bronze memorial statue of the late combat medic now stands. 

Dwyer attended elementary school at Infant Jesus in Port Jefferson and graduated from Mount Sinai High School in 1994. As a young man, he enjoyed playing golf and going fishing with his friends and family. After he left high school, Dwyer moved to North Carolina with his parents and was employed at a local hospital where he transported people who needed medical treatment. 

Known by his family as a sensitive and caring person, he enlisted in the Army on Sept. 12, 2001, immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

After training in Georgia, and a stint at Fort Bliss, Texas, he was deployed to Iraq in 2003. He replaced a single mother, so that she was able to remain home with her child and was one of the first soldiers to enter Iraq during the war.

Dwyer became famous when a photo was published of him carrying a young, injured Iraqi boy during a battle on March 25, 2003. Army Times photographer Warren Zinn saw the situation unfold and clicked away as Dwyer met the boy’s father — who carried a white flag and his injured son to the soldier, eventually bringing the 4-year-old to safety.

His sister, Kristine Dwyer, said at Saturday’s event when the photo came out, he was modest about being in the center of it. 

“He was proud of what he did,” she said, “But he’d always say to give credit to Clark, the man who saved the little boy’s life.”

She added that she believes the notoriety was hard for her brother. 

“I think the attention was hard for him,” she said. “He would say, ‘We’re all doing the same thing over there.’”

When he came home, he began to struggle. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Dwyer became addicted to inhaling fumes from a computer cleaner aerosol. On June 28, 2008, at age 31, he overdosed accidentally, dying in North Carolina. 

Thirteen years from the date of his death, members from his family and officials honored Dwyer and the impact his death had on the veteran community. 

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) became instrumental in helping fund the Dwyer Program — a peer-to-peer support program for veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. The program has received bipartisan support and is looking to go national.

Kristine said her brother would have been proud to know that his name now helps veterans across the country today.

“Something good came out of it,” she said. “Something now is here that he didn’t have, that he most likely would have been a part of, where they can feel comfortable and talk about what they saw. That’s so important to have other people say, ‘You know, me too.” He knew he was loved. His family loved him … but if only love was enough.”

The statue took years to complete and, with the help of Town of Brookhaven officials, it was finally finished earlier this year. Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said the patch of land, which was deemed an eyesore, now is the home of a place where families can come together.

“One of the interesting things about this square is that it has become a reverent place for people to come and reflect,” she said. “You’ll find a memento from a family or a loved one in front of the flag from that branch of service.”

Bonner said the park’s purpose is to honor and pay respect to veterans past, present and future. 

“It’s to acknowledge that our veterans sit at home now and may not have obvious war injuries,” she said. “They have other injuries that you can’t see. And the foundations and the organizations, that provide health, counseling and services to those veterans so they can lead a full and productive life, deserve the biggest hat tip possible because there’s no greater service than the service to our country.”

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) thanked the local VFW Post 6249 for their help in creating this sacred space. 

“Without their efforts, without their drive, the statute would not be standing here today,” he said. “Their vision has made this possible and, today, we honor the memory of man — we honor his service, we honor a program that helps our veterans that was named for him.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Town of Brookhaven residents gathered on Tuesday morning to honor Glen “Doc” Moody Jr., an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who passed away April 8, 2020 at just 39 years old.

The town renamed Groveland Park Boulevard and 7th Street in Sound Beach after the heroic Marine. 

The Moody family embraced each other as the street sign — which read “HM2 Glen ‘Doc’ Moody” — was revealed to the community. They were also presented with a proclamation by Councilwoman, Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) stating May 25 will be declared as “Glen ‘Doc’ Moody Day” in the Town of Brookhaven. 

The new sign is located adjacent to the Moody household.

“Growing up, Glen was really into GI Joes and guns,” said Glen’s brother George Moody. “So, there’s a lot of memories growing up in this home with him.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Joined by Navy personnel, veterans, police officers and firefighters, Moody was largely recognized by fellow war heroes and the community for the sacrifices he had made for his country.

After serving as an FMF Corpsman with the United States Marines for six years, Moody, of Miller Place, returned home unaware he was about to face one of his toughest battles yet, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Although Moody suffered from his disorder, Moody’s family highlighted the positive influence he created by being an active member of the community. 

“He started working with the Lt. Michael Murphy Sea Cadets. He would dress in fatigues and pack up all his equipment,” George said. “Something about it just lit him up to get out there and help these kids, teach them what he knows, and instill confidence and pride in them.” 

In efforts to aid Moody with his disorder, his family reached out to the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation in California, which trains service dogs for veterans and first responders. With the support of the community, the Moody family was able to fundraise for a service dog named Independence.

Moody had also been involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and led the Port Jefferson Dragon Boat Team.  

“This is what Glen always wanted to do, to help others and back our country up. That’s really what he was all about,” George added.

Bonner said the late veteran was a tremendous advocate in speaking about PTSD. 

“Even though Glen is gone from this Earth, his legacy and advocacy continue to live on and bring awareness and help to those suffering with PTSD,” she said. 

TBR News Media talked to Moody in 2015 about a fundraiser he hosted at Napper Tandy’s in Miller Place. The event was aimed to raise PTSD awareness and raise money to help veterans afford and obtain a PTSD service dog. 

“I’m not the only guy [suffering] — I know I’m not,” Moody said at the time. “When I talk to veterans, they say the same thing. We need more awareness and that’s what I’m doing.”

Photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

The Joseph P. Dwyer Memorial Statue was installed this month by Fricke Memorials at the Rocky Point Veterans Memorial Square, standing at the crossroads of Broadway and Route 25A.

This bronze statue identifies the psychological and physical reminders that many armed forces members must endure long after they return home from the fighting. 

At one point this town park was an eyesore to the community. For many years, there was trouble at this location, and in 2011 the Town of Brookhaven permanently closed the Oxygen Bar on the property.  Led by Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), the town purchased the land for $525,000 in 2015.  

On Oct. 17, 2016, the town installed large poles that flew the American and military branch flags. 

As a longtime resident of the area, Bonner said, “It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of this worthy endeavor to honor the military efforts of Dwyer and to understand the true significance of the struggles of PTSD. This is an extremely special location to also thank our armed forces members.”  

While Bonner has been involved with many key projects, she was also instrumental in helping create the Diamond in the Pines 9/11 Memorial that was built in 2011 by VFW Post 6249 Rocky Point.

Joseph Dwyer in uniform. Photo from Dwyer family

Former state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) also played a big role in securing the necessary funds for the Dwyer statue. VFW Post 6249 Comdr. Joe Cognitore said LaValle “always positively worked with veterans groups and to help our diverse needs. This statue signifies the amazing drive of LaValle to always be a true champion of support towards the past, present and future members of the military.”  

The structure that remembers Dwyer, who was a graduate of Mount Sinai High School, illustrates the vital need to help those service members who are suffering from PTSD. 

Positive sentiments were expressed by members of the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society.  Senior Tristan Duenas said, “The town did a wonderful job in replacing a poor piece of land and making it into a vital memorial to pay tribute to our veterans, especially those that have been inflicted by PTSD.”  

Junior Caroline Settepani added, “This statue demonstrates the major achievements of veterans like Dwyer that risked their lives to help people from different parts of the world.”  

Following her research, junior Madelynn Zarzycki believed “the project is also connected to the past negative treatment of the Vietnam veterans who received little support when they came home.”  

According to Zarzycki, “These veterans who fought in Southeast Asia faced a severe amount of PTSD challenges that impacted the rest of their lives. It does not matter when a soldier served in battle, these harsh experiences do not discriminate from one generation to the next.”  

Senior Chloe Fish recalled the former Oxygen Bar as a “detriment toward the beauty of this community. Now the Dwyer statue adds a new prospective of service to the downtown area of Rocky Point.”

A statue of Joseph Dwyer in Rocky Point. File photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

Through these daunting times, the men and women in the Armed Services have always made this nation proud of their efforts to protect, preserve and promote the ideals of this nation at home and abroad.

Earlier this month, Tommy Fricke and his workers from Fricke Memorial added a tribute to the Rocky Point Veterans Square on the corner of Broadway and 25A — another reminder of national service to local residents — through the Combat Medic Joseph P. Dwyer Statue.  

This statue of Dwyer identifies the terrible impact of post traumatic stress disorder on combat veterans that have returned home after being involved in serious fighting. Since 1915, this recognized brain trauma, from the impact of fighting on a soldier was identified as “shell shocked.”  

There was no significant counseling that was offered by the government to properly treat millions of men and women from these different conflicts. Little was offered in therapy to the veteran that had fought over the skies of Europe, or who landed at D-Day, or through the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific and Asia. 

In many cases, veterans were told to forget about their experiences, go home, get married, attend college, find a job and start a family.  

Photo by Kyle Barr

It is highly possible that many of the people who drive by the Dwyer Statue had family members who had no significant help to deal with PTSD. Some men and women had nightmares, outbursts, flashbacks and were in dire need of mental and physical attention that was not provided to them. 

According to the Veterans Administration, the most recent Gulf War veterans that served during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have been inflicted from 11-20 veterans out of every 100. During Desert Storm, the figure is 12 out of every 100 veterans have suffered from PTSD.  

And these numbers are staggering for Vietnam veterans, who at one point in their life had to deal with the enormous pressures of their service. It is estimated that at least 30% of Vietnam Veterans endured PTSD.  

This new statue focuses on the strength of American service, and the responsibilities of our government to care for all the members of the Armed Forces when they return home.  

As a child, Dwyer attended elementary school at Infant Jesus in Port Jefferson and graduated from Mount Sinai High School in 1994. As a young man, he enjoyed playing golf and going fishing with his friends and family. After he left high school, Dwyer moved to North Carolina with his parents and was employed at a local hospital where he transported people who needed medical treatment. 

According to his older sister Kristine, Dwyer was a peaceful man who always wanted to care for others.  When America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, after watching the assault on this nation, he tried to enlist that very day into the army but had to wait until Sept. 12. He eventually graduated from Basic and Advanced Individual Training from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he became a combat medic.  

Shortly after finishing his training, Dwyer was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he vaccinated soldiers that were deployed overseas. On Feb. 15, 2003, he married his sweetheart, Matina, in Troy, North Carolina.  

When President George W. Bush (R) ordered American soldiers to be sent to the Middle East to attack Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2003, Dwyer replaced a single mother, so that she was able to remain home with her child. He was one of the first soldiers to enter Iraq during this war with the 37th Cavalry Regiment. 

Joseph Dwyer in uniform. Photo from Dwyer family

While Dwyer told his family that he was being deployed to a hospital in Kuwait, they had no idea that he was with the leading army units that were on the road toward Baghdad — it wasn’t until the media began to run stories of his actions saving a child when they realized he was serving in Iraq.  

This well-known picture of Dwyer carrying a young child to safety was published and reported across the nation, and around the globe.  But to the day he died, Dwyer repeatedly stated that there was another combat medic that played a pivotal role in saving the life of this young boy. 

It was a difficult deployment for Dwyer who was constantly under attack, lonely and unable to sleep.  An exhausted Dwyer began inhaling computer cleaner Dust-Off to help him sleep a few hours before going back onto duty.  

On June 20, 2008, Dwyer left Iraq and traveled alone to Fort Bliss to eventually meet his wife, where they set up their home. A month later, the couple headed back to Mount Sinai, where he enjoyed the reunion with his family, friends and teachers.  

Right away, his sister realized that he was grossly underweight. He lost over 40 pounds during his time in Iraq. While Kristine cherishes the moment of seeing her brother after his deployment, she is not sure of his true joy, due to his unknown PTSD condition. 

Once he was at home, Dwyer was continually impacted by the issues of his PTSD condition. There were points that when he was driving, that Dwyer feared possible unexploded ordinances that were on the roads. He never held the feeling of personal safety, had disturbing visions, and for the rest of his life, this peaceful man had no personal peace after he served in Iraq. 

Kristine noticed a stare that developed in her brother who always wanted to be outside. Matina observed that her husband never liked going out to dinner, he closely watched the other customers, and always kept an eye on the door. Dwyer eventually gained his discharge from the service, but it was a battle to fight the government to receive his full disability compensation. During his service at home and when he left the army, Dwyer was still unable to sleep, and he continued to inhale Dust-Off.

By the end of his life in 2008, he did not have family members living with him and was unable to hold onto his own mental state. 

The picture that was widely presented across the nation and in different parts of the world was indicative of the kindness of Dwyer, even as he dealt with the horrors of his own personal concerns.

Until he passed away, it was important for Dwyer to have his story truthfully reported that presented the negatives of PTSD, and how it drastically changed the mental state of this peaceful citizen. On June 28, 2008, Dwyer died from the inhalants that he used to cope with the severity of his PTSD. 

Dwyer and his family. Photo from Dwyer family.

In speaking about the memory of her husband, Matina firmly recalls how he always sought to help others with an immense amount of love. This affection was especially demonstrated to his then two-year-old daughter who was called his “little princess.”

Meagan K. Dwyer is now 14 years old with a memory that lives on through family stories and pictures of her father.  

At the end of World War II, the historic Flag Raising at Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, was a similar picture that showed the resolve of American service overseas. 

When Ira Hayes, a marine that hoisted this flag during the earliest moments of this terrifying battle, came home, he suffered from PTSD where he drank heavily and agonized over his fellow marines and friends that died on this island. A short time later, he died from excessive drinking. 

Although Hayes passed away nearly 67 years ago, his story is connected to Dwyer. Both veterans were widely documented through a historic picture that rapidly received national acclaim from Americans across this country. 

But the hardships of PTSD never discriminate from one soldier or conflict to the next, and it is vital for this government to always perfect its ways to help combat veterans. 

Sean Clouston

By Daniel Dunaief

Every year, the country pauses on 9/11, remembering the victims of the terrorist attacks and reflecting on the safety and security of the country. At the same time, a Stony Brook University study continues not only to remember the first responders but also to understand the physical and mental consequences of the work police, firefighters and other first responders performed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

Benjamin Luft

Recently, Sean Clouston, an associate professor in the Department of Family, Population & Preventive Medicine at SBU Renaissance School of Medicine, and Ben Luft, the director of the SBU WTC Health and Wellness Program since 2003, published research in which they demonstrated a link between a protein commonly connected with Alzheimer’s disease to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, in first responders.

In a small preliminary study, the researchers found a difference in the level of the protein between first responders who are battling chronic PTSD and those who aren’t battling the condition. The Stony Brook scientists published their work in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring.

The researchers cautioned that the presence of the markers doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about present or future changes in cognitive function.“We don’t know the specificity of the markers,” Luft explained in an email.

Amyloid is generally considered the earliest marker of Alzheimer’s disease, which includes cognitive decline. Some people, however, have significant amounts of amyloid and don’t develop problems with their thinking. Neurodegenerative diseases without amyloid rarely have severe symptoms, which don’t appear to worsen with time.

“This paper doesn’t look at cognitive symptoms,” Clouston said. “We do have papers looking at cognitive impairment and other memory-based differences. It wasn’t a part of this paper.”

The newest research is part of an ongoing program in which the university follows 11,000 responders who came to the World Trade Center. The study for this paper involved a smaller subset of this population. This type of research can and does have application to other studies of people who have traumatic experiences, the scientists suggest.

Most traumatic experiences are unique to each person, as people who suffer physical and emotional trauma in combat often confront the aftereffects of head injuries. Among the first responder population who survived the attacks on 9/11, most of them “faired pretty well physically,” Clouston said. 

“We didn’t have a lot of head injuries. Understanding PTSD in this crowd is really useful for the literature as a whole because it allows us to focus on the long-term psychiatric fallout of an event without worrying about exposures that are different.”

The scientists had at least some idea of the timing and duration of exposures. This research suggests that it might be helpful to think about the kinds of problems that cognitive impairment can cause, which might involve managing other health-related problems.

Luft added that the population they are studying shows the benefit of immediate care. “One thing for sure is that the care of the first responders has to occur very quickly,” he said. “Now that we know the history, the greatest chance you have in mitigating the effect of this type of trauma is to deal with the problem from the get-go.” 

Sean Clouston with his daughter Quinn at Benner’s Farm in Setaukt. with his daughter Quinn. Photo by Rachel Kidman

First responders have benefited from psychotherapy as well as from various pharmacological treatments. Luft suggested that they might even benefit from having therapists available in the field, where they can receive near instantaneous psychological support.

In addition to the psychological trauma, first responders have had physical effects from their work in the aftermath of the attacks, such as respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, as well as autoimmunity issues.

People have these problems because “of the pro-inflammatory effect of PTSD itself,” said Luft. The researchers believe trauma can affect the immune system and the brain.

According to Clouston, the next step with this work is to replicate it with a larger scale. The experiment was “fairly expensive and untried in this population and novel in general, so we started small,” he explained in an email. The scientists would like to “get a larger range of responders and to examine issues surrounding symptomatology and other possible explanations.”

Clouston has been at Stony Brook for six years. Prior to his arrival on Long Island, he worked on a collaborative project that was shared between University College London and the University of Victoria. 

An expert in aging, he felt like his arrival came at just the right time for the WTC study, as many of the first responders were turning 50. After giving talks about the cognitive and physical effects of aging, he met Luft and the two decided to collaborate within six months of his arrival.

Clouston is focused on whether PTSD caused by the terrorist attacks themselves have caused early brain aging. A self-proclaimed genetics neophyte, he appreciates the opportunity to work with other researchers who have considerably more experience in searching for molecular signatures of trauma.

Clouston said his family has suffered through the trauma of cognitive decline during the aging process. His family’s struggles “definitely bring [the research] home,” reminding him of the “terror that many family members feel when they start noticing problems in their siblings, parents, spouses, etc.”

As for his work on the recent study, he said he is excited about the next steps. “Little is known about the subtypes of amyloid,” he suggested and there’s a “lot more to explore about the role [of this specific type] in the population. I do think it could be really informative about the types of symptoms.”

The Blanco family stands at the newly dedicated "L. Cpl. Michael E. Blanco" section of Wichard Boulevard in Commack. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

By Kyle Barr

A Commack street now bears the name of a U.S. Marine who lost his life in 2010 from the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder.

Town of Smithtown officials, local veteran groups and the Blanco family gathered July 1 on Wichard Boulevard in Commack to watch the unveiling of the sign dedicating a portion of roadway in memory of Lance Corporal Michael E. Blanco. It was erected on the street where Blanco grew up.

“It means to us that every time someone looks at that sign, they’ll remember however Michael touched their lives,” Blanco’s sister, Nicole Blanco-Abbate, said.

Smithtown Town officials, Suffolk County elected officials and member of the Blanco family at the July 1 ceremony. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

Those who knew Blanco recalled him as a selfless man who wouldn’t hesitate to do things for others. Blanco’s father, Bruce, remembered how when his son attended high school the young man asked for more lunch money, commenting that he was “a growing boy.” Later, he learned Blanco was giving that extra money anonymously to the kids who couldn’t afford lunch.

“My son was always known as the protector – he was the one who came out of nowhere to help people,” Blanco’s father said. “I get constant phone calls from his friends of what he’s done to help them. He stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves.”

The Blanco family said they were humbled when nearly 100 people showed up to the ceremony at the intersection of Wichard Boulevard and Philson Court in support including including Suffolk County officials, members of the American Legion Ladies Post 1244, Smithtown and Nesconset Fire Departments, AM Vets, the Patriot Guard Riders, Missing in America Project, Veterans for Freedom, American Legion riders and American Legion Auxiliary Greenlawn Chapter 1244.

“There were so many people there, from small kids all the way to veterans in their 70s and 80s,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “This type of dedication leads to more acceptance. It shows there has to be something done about soldiers with PTSD.”

In September 2017, the U.S. Office of Veteran Affairs released a report on suicides amongst veterans of the armed services based on 55 million record dating from 1979  to 2014. It found that an average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day. PTSD is the leading cause of death for veterans and military service members.

Several veterans groups attended the July 1 ceremony in honor of Michael Blanco. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

“He still was a soldier – he still was a veteran,” Blanco’s mother, Donna, said. “With this sign, we are bringing awareness to the 22 veterans who die every day from PTSD.”

Both of Blanco’s parents agreed that this dedication does much to help the community remember their son and the struggles he faced.

“The worst fear a mother has when a son dies is that he won’t be remembered,” Blanco’s mother said. “Now I know my son will forever be memorialized and he will always be remembered.“

Bruce Blanco said he became involved the American Legion Riders Chapter 1244 after his son passed away, and he is now leading them as their president. Since then, the riders have been involved in many veterans memorials and events all around the Huntington and Smithtown areas. The chapter also participates in the Missing in America Project that tries to give proper military funerals to those veterans who died without family or who remain unremembered.

“One of the worst things for anyone is to ever be forgotten,” Blanco’s father said. “Everything throughout Smithtown is a remembrance for us, and this sign just adds to onto it.”

Attention all veterans and their caregivers:
Operation-Initiative Foundation will present a Holistic Healing Workshop for Veterans with PTSD and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 716 Route 25A, Rocky Point on Saturday, April 14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This event will feature speakers that will address the advances made in their respective disciplines and in Complementary and Alternative Medicine that are at the forefront in treating veterans who have been diagnosed as having PTSD. Additional discussion will focus on supportive needs of their family caregivers. All veterans and caregivers should bring a copy of their DD 214. All information is kept completely confidential. Seating is limited and lunch will be provided. To reserve your spot, call 631-744-9355.
The mission of the Operation-Initiative Foundation is to bring awareness, information and support to veterans and their caregivers who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen Pennington and Warrior Ranch Foundation Vice President Tony Simonetti spend time with Pennington’s horse Red. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

When Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro first stepped into the round pen with a horse at Warrior Ranch Foundation, her guard was up.

Castro, who served in Operation Enduring Freedom from 2002 to 2004, and admittedly struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, was face to face with a 1,400-pound Friesian horse named BlackJack during a July demonstration by the Mount Sinai and Islip-based nonprofit, which pairs military and first-responder veterans with rescue horses in need of rehabilitation and training.

Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro bonds with
Vet therapy: Mount Sinai’s Warrior Ranch helps heal
her horse BlackJack. Photo from Warrior Ranch
Foundation

The tough-as-nails veteran was attempting to engage BlackJack in basic ground exercises, but the horse was not budging. Its guard was up too.

“I soon realized it was because I was terrified of him,” Castro later said. “When you’re with these horses they feel everything you’re feeling, even the emotions you think you’re hiding from everybody else. You can’t hide them from a horse.”

Castro relaxed, and as she calmed down, so did BlackJack. The horse began to lick and chew — a reflex associated with the animal’s release of stress.

“By the end of the session, I wound up with a friend,” she said of BlackJack. “With the horses, you have someone you’re actually bonding with in your own private, silent language. It’s beautiful.”

Officially incorporated in June 2016, the Warrior Ranch Foundation has helped reduce the stress levels and PTSD symptoms of more than a dozen veterans still recuperating from a wide range of conflicts — from the Korean War to Vietnam War to the war in Afghanistan — by teaching them how to groom, feed and train troubled horses. And much like the veterans, the nine residential horses, mostly retired race and show animals that have been trained their whole lives to compete and perform in high-stakes settings, are learning to adapt to a new, more relaxed world.

Cathie Doherty spends time with horse Cody.
Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“There’s a strong parallel between them and it’s amazing to see their emotional breakthroughs,” said Eileen Shanahan, the nonprofit’s founder and president. “While the race horses are trained to run, run, run, and as a result have emotional issues, the veterans are trained to go out there and do the best they can to protect and defend us. When they come back, they have to shut that off and that’s not so easy. We provide a safe haven for these humans and animals.”

Shanahan’s organization is the result of her lifelong love of country and horses. The Queens native, who shoots and produces television programs and commercials for a living, comes from a large military family with a father who served in the Marines, an uncle and brother in the Navy, nephews in the Army, as well as several first responders.

Although she mostly rode buses and subways growing up, Shanahan always admired horses from afar, seeing them as beautiful creatures.

When she got married and moved to East Quogue in the 1980s, she took up horseback riding and, 15 years ago, began adopting rescue horses and studying natural horsemanship — a variety of rapport-based horse training techniques.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

For nearly a decade, she dreamt of providing this outlet for local veterans and finally launched it with the help of longtime friends and equestrians specialists. While the group currently works out of two private barns, the future plan is to turn Warrior Ranch into a national organization.

“We want to eventually help hundreds of veterans and horses because it really works,” Shanahan said, explaining that interactions like Castro’s is very common at the ranch. “A lot of times when they come here, the veterans have their arms crossed, but by the end of the day, they have ear-to-ear grins. A lot of them break down and cry and it’s so powerful to watch.”

Tony Simonetti, Warrior Ranch’s vice president and top horse trainer, has made a career of rehabilitating emotionally distraught horses and re-interacting them with their human counterparts, resolving more than 500 extremely difficult horse cases for people across the country. When asked his most memorable veteran-horse interaction within the organization, he talked about Army Staff Sergeant Allen Pennington, Warrior Ranch’s first soldier to go through the program, and Red, a 4-year-old, retired race thoroughbred.

“[Allen’s] this big, rough and tough guy, and when the horse connected with him, I just saw all the stress he was holding inside bubble right up through his chest and then he just couldn’t keep himself composed,” Simonetti said. “He broke down and turned around and hugged that horse like it was his battle buddy. And I told him, ‘don’t feel bad about that. That’s what you’re here for.’”

During a testimonial on the Warrior Ranch website, Navy veteran Cathie Doherty, who was diagnosed with PTSD and put on medication for a number of years, said she was grateful to have attended a women veteran’s retreat at the nonprofit.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“It was really an amazing experience,” Doherty said. “I think it touched me much deeper than I imagined it would. I appreciated working with the horses and that I had to make a connection with them. I feel I was present in the moment. I didn’t care about my phone, I didn’t care what was going on around me. It was a beautiful experience for me.”

Castro said companionship with a horse might be more beneficial than a human’s.

“When you’re a veteran and you’re having a bad day, you don’t want to tell anybody, you don’t want to talk about it — you want to forget about it,” she said. “But I also don’t want to be alone and, so, when you’re there with the horse, and that horse knows what you’re going through and feeling, he feels it too. And because you love the horse and you don’t want the horse to feel that way, you’re going to try and make yourself feel better. It’s awe-inspiring.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who served four years in the Army, visited the ranch in Mount Sinai with his family Oct. 7 and saw firsthand the value of the nonprofit.

“It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to see the positive effects that you’re having on these horses, and from these horses the veterans are getting love that they possibly have never experienced
before,” Zeldin said. “In a way, you’re directly coping with the symptoms of PTSD while also productively escaping the worst of it. It’s a great concept and I’d love to see Warrior Ranch grow into something a whole lot bigger than it already is.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, fifth from left, meets with members of the Warrior Ranch Foundation. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

by -
0 1262
From left, veteran Frank Lombardi, Alex Rohman from Time Capital and veteran Chris Levi work to raise awareness for veterans’ mental health issues. Photo from Frank Lombardi

By Colm Ashe

There are more convenient ways to travel from Connecticut to Port Jefferson than across the Long Island Sound on a kayak, but taking the easy way is not an option for two Army veterans.

Chris Levi and Frank Lombardi kayaked from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Port Jefferson Aug. 27 in an effort to raise money and awareness for veterans suffering from mental health issues.

The 22-mile trip took more than six hours to complete. “It was a long day,” Lombardi said with a laugh.

The distance between Bridgeport and Port Jefferson is less than 22 miles, but the pair traveled the extra mileage because of the number’s significance. According to 22Kill, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about veteran suicide and post traumatic stress disorder, 22 veterans commit suicide every day on average. Many of these suicides are directly related to PTSD-induced stress and depression, according to the organization’s website.

Lombardi said he was horrified by the statistic and is motivated to change it. “If we can give hope to just one veteran and prevent them from taking their own lives, we will consider the trip a huge success,” he said.

22Kill, along with four other regional and national nonprofit organizations collaborated to make the event happen.

Among the team of organizations was the War Writers Campaign, a publishing company on a mission to get veteran stories published. Levi and Lombardi raised $5,000 for their campaign by enlisting the help of local businesses like Southampton-based pool and environmental company the Tortorella Group.

“We called John [Tortorella, owner of the Tortorella Group] asking for a $500 donation,” Lombardi said. “He heard what we were doing and gave us $1,000.”

“They are true American heroes whose strength and perseverance can provide hope for the many veterans who need support to pick themselves up and show the world that they can do amazing things.”

— Alex Rohman

Time Capital donated another $1,000 and sponsored a kayak for the event. Alex Rohman, a partner of Time Capital, is an active supporter of the War Writers Campaign. He also recruited Levi and Lombardi for the kayak trip.

“I called Chris and Frank to see if they would be interested in supporting the trip and they immediately agreed,” Rohman said. “Within one day, they wanted to do more to not only support the War Writers Campaign, but wanted to expand the level of awareness to other organizations as well.”

Levi and Lombardi then reached out to other local businesses and organizations to further the cause. Angela’s House, W.B. Mason, Terranova Landscaping, the IGHL Foundation and the Ann Liguori Foundation contributed the remaining donations to the War Writers Campaign.

“Both Chris and Frank represent unconditional support for all veterans and have dedicated their lives to help those who are less fortunate,” Rohman said. “They are true American heroes whose strength and perseverance can provide hope for the many veterans who need support to pick themselves up and show the world that they can do amazing things.”

Beyond the War Writers Campaign and the event, Levi and Lombardi are both deeply involved in their own philanthropic pursuits.

Lombardi is an executive for Independent Group Home Living Program, a group that provides alternatives for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. He also serves on the National Advisory Board of World T.E.A.M Sports, an organization striving to bring together disabled and able-bodied citizens to participate in sports like mountain climbing, white-water rafting, bicycling and kayaking.

Levi is a frequent participant in World T.E.A.M. events. As a disabled veteran himself, Levi has overcome adversity in a big way.

In 2008, he was leading a convoy in Iraq when his Humvee was hit with rockets and IEDs. Levi lost both legs and took significant damage to his right hand and arm. He spent many years in numerous hospitals, but after countless surgeries and a difficult rehabilitation process, his spirit prevailed.

Since then, Levi has strived to become an inspiration in the lives of those who are suffering as an activist and an example. Levi’s goal during the 22-mile paddle across the Long Island Sound, was clear. He said he wanted to “show our fellow veterans that there is hope out there and with the right support, they can truly ‘Climb to Glory.’” This is also the motto of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in which both Levi and Lombardi served.

Lombardi believes the 10th Mountain Division’s motto represents “hope for all veterans who are suffering that they can climb out of the darkness and rise to achieve great things.”

Brig. Gen. Richard Sele speaks on the importance of treating veterans with care. Photo by Alex Petroski

In Suffolk County, veterans who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law now have a rehabilitation resource in a peer setting.

Veterans returning home from military service abroad often struggle assimilating into everyday civilian life. Suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional difficulties, some land in prison — for crimes such as those related to substance abuse — because of difficulty coping with the transition.

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco (C) announced the Incarcerated Veterans Re-Entry Initiative at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank last week. DeMarco spearheaded the new initiative along with Suffolk County Legislator Bill Lindsay (D-Holbrook), Judge John Toomey of the county’s Veterans Treatment Court, and veteran mentors from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 11.

A block of cells, also known as a pod, within the correctional facility will now be comprised completely of veterans, who will have access to mentors and other services provided by the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center and others, as well as the added benefit of being around others with similar backgrounds and experiences.

“I don’t know of any population of citizens that we would rather have reintegrated into our communities and into our society.”
—Thomas Croci

According to the sheriff, about 8 percent of inmates in the United States have served in the military. And there are about 174,000 military veterans living on Long Island alone.

DeMarco said in an interview after the event that Vietnam veterans have been approaching the sheriff about establishing a dedicated jail pod for many years, similar to what has been done for the adolescents who are separated from the rest of the jail population, but the county’s overcrowded facilities made it a challenge.

“Veterans who have served our country and have been honorably discharged, the lowest point of their lives [is] if they get incarcerated,” DeMarco said, adding that the program will focus on getting incarcerated veterans treatment through various nonprofits for PTSD, addictions or any other mental health problems their experiences in the service contributed to.

“I think we owe that to them. They put their lives on the line for us.”

Brig. Gen. Richard Sele was the keynote speaker and said it is important to treat these veterans with sympathy.

“As soldiers, in addition to the wide range of regulations and policies that we follow, we hold our soldiers accountable to values — very high values,” Sele said. “As a leader and someone who has commanded at various levels, I’ve done so in a very firm and fair manner. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you also have to show compassion. You can still be firm and fair and show compassion.”

Ralph Zanchelli, of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 11, has been visiting jails on Long Island to serve as a mentor to veterans for about 16 years, and he spoke on behalf of the group.

“Housing veterans together is so very, very important,” he said. “They will be able to communicate with each other and support each other. We should never forget, when someone serves the country they sign a blank check, pledging to protect and serve the people of the United States of America, willing to give up their lives — and many have.”

“Veterans who have served our country and have been honorably discharged, the lowest point of their lives [is] if they get incarcerated.”
—Vincent DeMarco

New York State Sen. Thomas Croci (R-Sayville) spoke about the importance of rehabilitating returning soldiers with mental health issues.

“I don’t know of any population of citizens that we would rather have reintegrated into our communities and into our society,” he said. “These are exactly the people that we want back in our communities, running our businesses, sharing their experiences in school as teachers, and in law enforcement.”

DeMarco addressed the possible criticism that everyone should be held accountable for breaking the law without preferential treatment.

“They’re being held accountable for their crimes, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “They have to go to court. They’re going to be charged. They’re going to be sentenced. They’re not getting off easy. We’re just giving them a better place and services while they’re incarcerated.

DeMarco likened this jail block to a similar one established in 2011 for 16- to 22-year-olds, which included rehabilitative efforts and mentoring. He said the incarcerated population from that demographic has dropped 75 percent since then.