By Valerie Shelton, Editor
For the 1 percent of Americans who serve the country in the United States military, it’s all about the mission and often when soldiers, sailors, marines and airman are released from service suddenly due to an injury, the loss of the mission can be as tough as the loss of limb.
Such is the experience of young veteran John Cook, who served as active duty in the U.S. Navy for eight years before a routine surgery on his ankle led to an infection that would cause him to lose his right leg and his military career.
Cook’s loss sent him into a downward spiral. After nine surgeries, he had gained 70 pounds and an unhealthy addiction to painkillers like morphine and oxy cotton. He was also placed on a serious of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications intended to help with the emotional turmoil he was feeling in addition to the physical pain.
Each day, 22 veterans nationwide with experiences like Cook’s take their lives. Cook says he is one of the lucky ones because he was fortunate to find a new mission—helping other veterans.
“I hit a low point in my life and I almost became one of the 22 a day,” Cook said. “I had visits to the psych ward and I just didn’t want to live anymore. I was tired of living like that. I was a shell of a person and didn’t even want to leave the house. Then, I got sober—I’ve been sober over three years now—and I got with this organization last year and Justin [the founder of Our Heroes’ Dreams] changed my life. I met him at a golf tournament in Madera and he immediately started talking to me about getting a service dog and a four-wheel drive altering wheelchair… I went and did the Healing Safari with this organization and met all these guys that were new outlets and I realized I wasn’t alone. I didn’t serve in combat, I was just a mechanic and worked on airplanes and they flew off the ship and went and did their job so I didn’t really feel like I deserved any of this stuff. Yes, I was going to the VA for healthcare, but I didn’t look for other stuff I should be getting that would make life a whole lot easier. Once I got with this organization they made me realize that it didn’t matter that I didn’t serve in combat, I was still going through a big thing, an ordeal, because of my service. Just losing my career and having to adapt to this new way of life was a struggle and having these other vets who have already gone through this stuff it really helped out, so I started getting involved with this organization and I want to help out as much as I can because that was my big problem: I needed to get off the couch.”
Our Heroes’ Dreams founder Justin Bond’s story models Cook’s.
Bond served in the U.S. Army and after returning home from the battle of Fallujah in Iraq with an Ak-47 gunshot wound through the center of both knees, found himself in a new and unwanted situation as a 26-year-old veteran missing his left leg.
“I went from fighting for our country to fighting for my life in battles like depression, sleepless nights, cancer, thyroid issues, fibromyalgia, PTSD and soon I was addicted to pain pills,” Bond said.
The problem Bond soon realized is that nobody teaches those in the military how to be veterans and though many with PTSD and depression seek help from the VA Hospital, all they are given is a series of pills to treat the symptoms. Even with the VA there to help, 22 veterans commit suicide each day and there are over 100,000 confirmed veteran suicides since the current wars in the Middle East started.
Instead of lying on the couch, Bond said he gave himself a new mission and created Our Heroes’ Dreams to help fellow veterans. In the last three years, Our Heroes Dreams has had a 100 percent success rate helping warriors avoid and break through the struggles of suicide after attending the non-profit’s Healing Safari program.
Now, Bond said Our Heroes’ Dreams is expanding in order to give these veterans a mission that last for more than just a few days.
“It’s one thing to get a veteran up off the couch and to an event, that is where most programs are doing good stuff, but then they don’t follow it all the way through,” Bond said. “When you do get a veteran off the couch and you get him out doing something, then all of a sudden what do you do afterwards? You send him back to the couch…Our Healing Safari has been successful in getting guys up off the couch and getting them into a new mission to get them going. Unfortunately, we’ve only been able to help very few compared to how many have come back and that is why we’re going to take our healing safari fulltime and be working on building Camp Freedom, a full-time veterans camp…but then, you still have to follow through and that is why we’re introducing VCRC, the Veterans Community Response Corp.”
The Veteran’s Community Response Corp gives veterans a new mission—to stand prepared to help in times of natural disasters or terrorist threats and attacks.
“They will be back in uniform and will respond to disasters and emergencies for the Red Cross plus continue Our Heroes’ Dreams community benefits projects,” Bond said. “In response to the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium, we want to stand in readiness for any kind of disaster and our response is needed to help keep our communities safe. The structure of platoons and squads will be similar to the military so the veterans will feel comfortable going back into service, only this time at home and working directly in the community to serve their friends and family. We currently have one platoon serving five counties from Bakersfield, Kings and Tulare to Fresno and Madera. As our numbers grow, we will break down into multiple platoons serving each county.”
Already, Our Heroes’ Dreams VCRC team has been at work in the community. Cook said one service project VCRC did recently was help build 1,000 feet of fencing for a double amputee veteran in Hanford.
“It is just a great outlet and it is really rewarding to be able to help a veteran who is going through a crisis and be able to point him in the right direction and get them the help that they need and their thank you is all we need, that right there makes it all worth it for me because instead of sitting at home on the couch doing absolutely nothing, I’m making a difference,” Cook said. “That is all I ever really wanted to do. With this organization I feel I’m able to do my part. I was a different person for a few years dealing with all that stuff and now I feel like I’m somewhat getting back to normal.”
For more information on Our Heroes’ Dreams visit www.OurHeroesDreams.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (844) OHD-VETS. If veterans need to talk with someone immediately, they can dial 0 after the number to be connected to a veteran counselor waiting to help.