Battle buddies, community unite to support veterans on D-Day’s 75th anniversary

Courtesy of Brian Kramer Photography

On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, local residents, veterans and a few Santa Clarita Valley canines came together at The Oaks Club for the fourth annual Battle Buddy Golf Classic, a fundraiser to help supply veterans with service dogs.

Along with a day of competitive golf, the 144 tournament participants also enjoyed silent auctions, food, a keynote speaker and other entertaining activities.

Courtesy of Brian Kramer Photography

“We do this in honor of those who have served for us because the reality is that the veteran community does not always get the support that they need from multiple sources, and we really believe that one person saved is a win and a victory,” event coordinator Cathy Craig said during the event.

Courtesy of Brian Kramer Photography

The Veterans Administration previously reported an average of 22 veterans will kill themselves every day, and both Craig and Battle Buddy Foundation co-founder Kenny Bass believe that prescription drugs won’t solve the mental health problems faced by the veteran population. However, the pair said the complications could be mitigated by the service of a canine companion.

“Many, many veterans don’t want to go back out into public because they may have issues with noise and anxiety, but the dog gives them an overwhelming sense of security and confidence, because they have a battle buddy,” Craig added. “It’s unbelievable what a dog can bring to a normal person’s life, so now think about the huge benefit veterans could have.”

As a former Marine combat veteran who served during the Iraq War, Bass is familiar with the struggles that soldiers often face upon their return.

In 2003, Bass was wounded by a roadside bomb, which led to PTSD, hearing loss, Behcet’s disease and multiple physical injuries. As a result, Bass said he was receiving treatment in the V.A. almost every weekday, which isn’t uncommon for those returning from war.

“I started out taking three 10-miligram pills a day, and after about eight years, I was up to like 33 pills a day,” Bass said. “I was fully medicated, but my quality of life wasn’t better.”

While working with his physician to lessen the number of prescribed drugs, Bass said his doctor wrote him a prescription for a service dog.

“They basically said, ‘Good luck,’ because the V.A. doesn’t pay for them, provide them or anything other than maybe write you a prescription saying, ‘It’s a good idea,’” Bass added. “So like anybody else,” he took to Google to discover how to find a service dog, but received quotes amounting between $10,000 and $60,000.

After a little more research, he found a company that would charge him $15,000 for a service dog, who would grow up to be the award-winning Atlas the Wonderdog.

It’d take a couple of years to raise the money and pay the company off, but this would serve as a catalyst for the beginning of the Battle Buddy Foundation, Bass said, explaining how he ran into an old friend, marine and Santa Clarita Valley resident Joshua Rivers — who asked if he’d be willing to help veterans raise money for service dogs once he found a way to fund a service dog of his own.

“After 10 years of feeling like a burden to the world or like I didn’t belong,” Bass said, his purpose became clear.

Today, the nonprofit has chapters in Ohio and Valencia that are dedicated to helping combat veterans who suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other combat-related disabilities transition back to civilian life, Bass said, mentioning the group of volunteers who make the organization and its fundraisers possible.

Courtesy of Brian Kramer Photography

“Everything is done by our staff of trainers. The majority of which we re-employ,” meaning they’re disabled veterans who have received education opportunities that allow them to perfect the trade of dog training, Deputy Director Chrissy Faulkner said. “And then we pay them to train the service dogs for us, that we then place with disabled veterans.”

As Faulkner explained the many ways dogs can assist veterans, she said she believes service dogs are a more homeopathic way of treating veterans’ problems than the prescription drugs they’re often given because there’s no chance at dependency, “and there are so many ways they can help.”

Both Faulkner and Bass said the community can get involved with the organization by volunteering at events or becoming a “puppy raiser,” which is somebody who agrees to foster a prospective service dog until they are ready to be trained.

“As we build the program out here, we’re also looking for a location,” Baas said as he encouraged interested residents to visit the nonprofit’s website or Facebook. “It’s all in the very early stages but it’s something we’re looking at.”

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