A combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, "Jake" witnessed unspeakable horror including an IED that left him wearing the blood and brains of a fellow soldier on his uniform. Experiencing panic attacks, chest pains, claustrophobia and sleeplessness, at first, Jake thought he was having a heart attack. Going to sick call and cleared of a heart condition, he returned to combat. While these episodes continued throughout the rest of his second tour and for years thereafter, he denied what was happening to him. Eventually he spoke off the record with a mental health professional who diagnosed him with PTSD and prescribed psychotropic medication to alleviate his symptoms and help him function. Jake sought treatment at the VA where he continued off and on for years with little sustainable progress. The effects of PTSD are deep-seeded and extremely complex. Affecting nearly every facet of the mind, including emotional, psychological and physical responses, they are very difficult to treated separately. When the brain is exposed to consistent trauma as in war and combat, it locks in the thoughts, fears and emotions of that trauma long after combat is over. This is why the action-based, experiential approach of equine-assisted therapy is proving so effective in treating PTSD.
Prolonged bouts of sleeplessness, anxiety and depression took their toll. Jake lost his job and his marriage to this insidious, invisible wound of war. The same hyper-vigilant mental state that serves to enhance a soldier's awareness in war can destroy the returning warrior. 3 years ago, Jake found his way to Forever Amber Acres Animal Sanctuary as a volunteer. Unable to hold a job due to the severity of his symptoms, he said he was looking for a way to "make himself useful so he could stop feeling like a loser." While he'd grown up in a rural area of northeast Ohio, he had no prior experience with horses but found himself calmed by our pastoral surroundings and the gentle nature of our horses. This past December, Jake took a major step forward in his recovery by becoming a client of our Veteran Equine Therapy Services ("V.E.T.S") Program. At intake, he told our treatment team he was tired of living on the battlefield. In his recent clinical assessment Jake said: "These past few months have given me the first real sense of hope I have had in years. I am calmer, more centered, and able to feel genuine happiness for the first time in a very long time." While not free of symptoms, Jake’s symptoms have lessened and the program has helped him identify his triggers and better control them.
In the past 2 years, The V.E.T.S Scholarship Fund has provided equine-assisted psychotherapy at no-cost to 50 at-risk, underserved military veterans and first-responders in our service area of northeast Ohio with 7 of those funded through the generosity of The CFC. We couldn't be more grateful for this partnership and the folks we've served. We hope this year's campaign will enable us to serve 3 more of our wounded warriors in the year ahead. Our motto "Strengthening the bond between human and horse to promote healing" has been brought to life by our cherished CFC partners!