By William K. Alcorn
Dogs are the stars of one of the two programs new to the area to help military veterans recover from depression and post- traumatic stress disorder and other effects of war.
The programs, Vets Helping Heroes and Project Welcome Home Troops, were described Wednesday during a session of Youngstown Municipal Court’s Veterans Treatment Court, presided over by Judge Robert P. Milich, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.
“Our goal is to find programs like these and make veterans aware of them,” Judge Milich said.
Cash, a 5-year-old golden retriever service dog, along with his handler, 90-year-old Irwin Stovroff, a decorated World War II B-25 bomber pilot who flew 35 missions between 1942 and 1945, represented the Vets Helping Heroes program, which he created in 2008.
Stovroff was shot down over France, captured by the Germans, and spent 18 months as a prisoner of war before being liberated by Russian soldiers in 1945.
After retiring at 75 in Florida, he decided to pay back to the government that gave him an opportunity to serve his country, and worked 13 years with the National Service Office serving the American Ex-POW Organization.
After learning the federal government did not have programs to provide specially trained assistance dogs for military personnel wounded in the war on terrorism, he took matters into his own hands and created Vets Helping Heroes.
“People are not fully aware of what a dog can mean to veterans coming back, some of whom don’t want to go home to their homes and wife and kids,” he said.
Vets Helping Heroes raises money to support its mission of providing service dogs to returning warriors, but it is expensive, Stovroff said.
The cost of training a guide dog is $60,000, a service dog, $45,000, and seizure dogs, $10,000, he said.
To donate to Vets Helping Heroes, go online to www.VetsHelpingHeroes.org.
Also, Stovroff, who lived in Youngstown for some 25 years working for Penner Furniture in Struthers and in the city’s Uptown district, will be in the area until Oct. 1. He is available to talk to groups about the program. Call 561-251-9296.
The other person presented at the Veterans Court, Odyl Smith, is affiliated with Project Welcome Home Troops, which offers free, six-day workshops to veterans and their spouses with follow-up provided.
“The workshop is intense but effective and can be used as a first line of defense in lieu of medicine to teach methods and techniques to help veterans reduce stress and deal with trauma, anxiety, depression, post- traumatic stress disorder and flashbacks,” said Smith, who has been an instructor in the national program since 1990.
She said she also teaches counselors the techniques to use so they are able to help veterans.
A workshop is scheduled for Aug. 16-24 at First Presbyterian Church, 201 Wick Ave., Youngstown. To register, call Smith at 440-623-9799. For information on the program, go online to www.pwht.org.