A Season of Thanks: 6 Charities Empowering Veterans and Their Families

A Season of Thanks: these 6 charities want to empower and thank veterans and their families for their service.  

It’s tough not to feel thankful at this time of year. The #30DaysofThankful hashtag fills social media feeds, gratitude is at an all-time high and so is charity.

In that spirit, this month we’re pleased to profile six charities that give back to our nation’s veterans and military families.

K9s For Warriors

After Brett returned home as a contractor from Iraq with PTSD, Shari Duval recognized the need to innovatively and effectively treat PTSD. Thus, she founded K9s For Warriors in 2011. It started operating out of a two-bedroom home in Ponte Vedra, Fla., before upgrading to a donated 17,000-square-foot facility Nocatee, Fla.

Since its inception, the charity has graduated more than 300 veterans as service dog handlers; many of the dogs are rescue dogs. K9s For Warriors aims to provide service canines to warriors who have PTSD, TBI and/or military sexual trauma; it empowers people to return to civilian life with dignity and independence with a treatment option other than traditional therapy and prescription drugs. Rather, it focuses on using the human-animal bond and love.

The nonprofit encourages military spouses to be active in their veteran’s recovery process and be open-minded about treatment options. The first step is learning about how service dogs can mitigate the symptoms. K9s For Warriors also encourages spouses to focus on their own health and well-being to be the best they can be for themselves and their spouse.

Learn more at k9sforwarriors.org.

Brad, United States Army: Brad Knight successfully graduated from the K9s For Warriors program in November of 2016. A two-time Army Commendation Medal recipient and three-time Army Achievement Medal recipient, Brad served as an Administrative Specialist for the United States Army in a field artillery unit. His first deployment was during the initial invasion of Iraq where he spent a year of his time running convoys for mail and escorting highly-ranked military-men to fuel meetings. Brad was deployed again for an additional year, proudly serving on the gun line.

Upon returning home from Iraq, Brad was in search of ways to cope and to ultimately find peace of mind. “I’ve tried everything else under the sun, from medications to neuropsychological treatments, with little to no results,” Brad says of his journey before finding K9s For Warriors. One day, Brad’s mother shared the information she found while researching alternatives to help her son. Looking back on Brad’s initial thought when deciding to participate, he says, “After learning about the program, it gave me hope. I began to read up on other stories, most of which were just like mine, and thought it could help,” and he was right.

Once Brad arrived, he was paired with an English Labrador named Bear. Immediately, he was given the sense of relief he had been looking for. “There is no hoping, it already is helping. The bond created in just two short weeks only gives me peace of mind that my future will be better than my past,” he says. This new outlook on life is something Brad thinks is important for all military suffering in the same ways he is; stating, “It saves veterans from becoming a negative statistic to becoming functional citizens in society.”

Recalling his time spent during the K9s For Warriors program, Brad says: “After going through the experience, I now have hope that life is going to be OK.”

Boulder Crest Retreat

After Ken Falke was seriously wounded in 1989 while serving as a U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician and Master Chief Petty officer, he and his wife, Julia, wanted to help care for warriors. They started by bringing wounded EOD warriors and their families for meals and short stays in their home.

That inspired them to build Boulder Crest Retreat in Virginia, which included the donation of 37 acres of their property as well as an initial contribution to establish the Boulder Crest Retreat Foundation. It was incorporated in 2010 and received its 501(c)(3) certification in 2011. The retreat opened its doors in September 2013 as the nation’s first private wellness center to serve active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel, veterans and family members. Its success led it to open another retreat in Arizona in May 2017.

Boulder Crest uses PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), which is based on the science of posttraumatic growth. PATHH helps veterans, couples, families, caregivers and Gold Star families to thrive – not just survive. It helps this remarkable community to leverage the best of their training, experiences and commitment to service so they can serve as leaders in their families, communities and country.

Opportunities to help abound. One of the most important ways it to raise awareness and be an ambassador to let the country know that military and veteran families are among the strongest and most service-oriented demographics in our nation.

Learn more at bouldercrestretreat.org.

For 12 years, there was always a next mission; everything was very fast paced. There was no time to sort out what I had experienced. At Boulder Crest, for the first time, I was forced to slow down and get things on track. It was a ‘reset’ for me and my family.” -Michael Ditto

Over the course of 12 years, Theresia and Michael Ditto experienced the births of two children and the trials of seven military deployments. Michael, an original member of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command, lived in a perpetual state of motion, either serving away from his family or physically present but focused on training for his next mission. Theresia remained at home caring for their two children, whom she was raising largely alone. With every deployment and passing month, Theresia and the children got more settled as an unofficial family of three, and Michael grew further apart from them.

When Michael returned home for good in 2012, the family was unprepared for the difficulty of knitting their lives back together. While thrilled to have her husband safely home, Theresia struggled to co-parent with him. Michael lacked a fundamental bond with the children, who didn’t respond to him as a father figure. Furthermore, Michael suffered from a traumatic brain injury and PTSD, which made him both more volatile and emotionally detached.

Michael responded the way he was trained: by keeping focused on his next mission. He enrolled in a rigorous course of university study and, in his spare time, volunteered with the local fire department. “I was deliberately overextending myself to keep myself going,” he recalls. It quickly became clear that Michael’s frenetic pace was further eroding the Ditto family.

Michael and Theresia found Boulder Crest just when their family needed it most. When they arrived on Boulder Crest Retreat’s rural grounds for their first visit, they immediately felt at peace and at home. The burdens of their hectic veteran’s lifestyle fell away, and the next day, sitting on a bench by a lake, Michael and Theresia began a journey of rediscovering themselves and each other.

The Ditto family has returned to Boulder Crest every year since that first weekend. Sometimes for a few days, and other times for a cherished week. Regardless of how long they stay, they always emerge rebalanced, refreshed and reconnected.