America has been at war around the world for a long time. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends and relatives of those who serve, as well as veterans themselves, all pay a price one way or another.
When I visit the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to see a specialist, I see the results in the halls and on the elevators. As a veteran who served through a few of those conflicts, the damage to the bodies, minds and souls of my brothers and sisters makes me weep.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 160,000 veterans (defined as those who served) live in Northern Virginia. The effect of the military presence goes up considerably when you add families, friends and those who still serve. My personal experience is there are more vets needing help than services provided to help them. That is why volunteer organizations are so important.
Americans have responded by looking for new and innovative ways to help vets. One size does not fit all. Help comes in many flavors. Many have turned their businesses, hobbies, or interests into programs to help wounded warriors and their families recover. There are programs based on fly fishing, hiking, art, service dogs, ballet, yoga, poetry, and pretty much every other activity one can think of.
The Northern Virginia Veterans Association invited me to an event hosted by the Horsepower Equine Assisted Learning (HEAL) Foundation, on the edge of Prince William County, to experience the power of a horse’s ability to nourish the human spirit.
HEAL provides equine-facilitated learning and psychotherapy for active duty military, veterans, first responders and their families. HEAL uses the Eagala model for unmounted learning. This is proven to be especially effective with service members. Working with horses in this manner can promote stress relief, improve coping skills, increase energy, enhance mindfulness and bring a general sense of peace to the participant.
The qualifications of the staff are impressive. Lisa D’Alessio, a licensed professional counselor, was our host. Autumn Rae, a trained equine specialist certified in the Eagala model of therapy, demonstrated some of the techniques used to work with horses and veterans. The entire staff shares a love of horses and freely shared their knowledge with us.
I’m a “dog” person. The morning at HEAL touched my soul a bit. I left the demonstration thinking horses are like “big dogs.” They have strong emotions, do what they are trained to do, demonstrate feelings and bond. I understand how pairing a vet or family member to such a creature could soothe the soul.
Just as every veteran’s needs are different, every horse is different. The HEAL staff selects the right horse from its stable to fit the needs of each client.
Many worthwhile groups are out there. Look around and find one that matches your skills and interests. All of these programs incur costs, so the easiest way to help is to donate. You can find out how to help HEAL on its website, www.heal.foundation.
Awareness of the mental and physical price of war has increased significantly over the past few years. Veterans are grateful for this increased awareness and desire to help my wounded brothers and sisters heal. We appreciate those who love us and particularly honor those who volunteer their time, talent and emotions (it isn’t an easy task) to help our brothers and sisters recover.
To all of the volunteers out there: Thank you for your service.
Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.