Veterans unite with their service dogs for the first time in southern IL

Veterans meet their service dogs

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - Ten Veterans were provided service dogs in southern Illinois on Monday, November 26.

This Able Veterans provided trained PTSD service dogs to 10 veterans. This Able Veteran is a non-profit organization that helps Veterans heal from the psychological wounds of war.

One by one, the trained service dogs were taken center stage to wait to see their new owner. The owner then walked in the room to meet their new service dog and begin a new relationship.

Greg Williams served in the Navy for 28 years. He said he has dealt with PTSD for quite some time now and is ready for his new furry friend Tommy, to help him through his difficult times.

"I think the biggest thing is being able to notice when I'm having a stressful moment or when I'm getting to a place where I don't know how to open up to anybody else and I'm looking forward for him to be able to do that for me," Williams said.

Carissa Rawson was in the Air Force and was deployed to Jordan years ago. She said she was with the Air Force for seven years. She suffers from PTSD as well and stated this new friendship with her new service dog Britt will hopefully bring a positive change in her life.

Rawson said this was a very emotional day meeting her new friend and said she couldn't wait to see her for the first time.

"I broke down," Rawson stated. "A lot of crying. I've seen pictures of Britt before but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional impact of seeing her and getting to meet her for the first time."

Graduates of the program from previous years were invited back to help out the new veterans who received their new forever pals with any questions they may have.

Joe Brad McKenzie and his service dog Nienna, made the trip from San Diego, California, to see the new class of Veterans and their service dogs graduate.

McKenzie graduated in 2016 from This Able Veteran program and said it has been life changing these past two years with his new pal.

"I'm a completely different person now then what I was," McKenzie stated. "I used to get angry, upset and frustrated at all kinds of stuff. Little things that shouldn't be any problems. Now, with Nienna in my life, it makes me have to focus on the now and the little things I can just let go and don't have to fight it anymore."

The veterans and their new service dogs will go through a three week Trauma Resiliency Program beginning Nov. 26.

The graduation will be on December 14 at Carterville Community Center, 120 N. Greenbriar Rd. in Carterville at 6 p.m. The event is free, open to the community and the public is encouraged to attend.

During the three week program the veterans and service dogs will bond in different environments.

On December 6, they will fly together at the Southern Illinois Airport on flights facilitated by Southern Illinois University faculty and students.

According to This Able Veterans, all expenses including the purchase and training of the dogs, equipment, veterinary care, bringing the Veteran to the campus, lodging and the Trauma Resiliency Program are provided at no cost to the Veteran.

The cost is more than $25,000 and the non-profit relies entirely on fundraisers and donations to accomplish its mission.

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