Monday, June 1, 2015

The Luxury of Time

The Luxury of Time
By Andrew Turner

This September, we plan to display the 660 White Crosses, to represent the number of veteran suicides that will take place during Suicide Awareness Month.  When we first did this event last year, it was incredibly impactful on us personally, as well as on many of our friends and community members.  We expect the impact will only grow in the second year. 

The statistic of 22 veteran suicides every day may seem like an abstract number, hard to comprehend. But, looking over a field of 660 White Crosses is a powerful visual to see just how many lives are being lost, and the incredible ripple effect each life has on our community as fellow veterans, family members, and concerned citizens. 

Last year our goal with the 660 White Crosses was to raise awareness of veteran suicide, and encourage people to understand the impact of even a single loss of life.  This year, our goal is to contribute something tangible to impact the mental health of veterans in a positive way, and we are asking more of ourselves and more of you as supporters of Veteran’s Refuge Network. 

When we started VRN, one of our goals was to partner and support other like-minded organizations that serve our veterans each day. This year as we display the 660 White Crosses, we are asking anyone and everyone to sponsor a cross for $22. With your help, we will get all 660 crosses sponsored and raise $14,520.00! The money we raise from the sponsored crosses will be donated to Stiggy’s Dogs, a fellow non-profit in Brighton, Michigan, who is making a difference and saving lives by partnering veterans with companion and service dogs.

Why is this important? A couple months ago, the VA announced it is restarting a 3-year study to determine if “veterans with post-traumatic stress can benefit from service dogs or emotional support dogs."  I’m of the opinion that they could save a lot of time and money by spending one day with Stiggy’s and a few of the veteran/service dog teams they’ve trained.  It wouldn’t take much to understand the positive impact the dogs have on the lives of the veterans they are teamed with.  The money we raise will help Stiggy’s continue to grow and help more veterans.
If it sounds like I’m a paid spokesman for Stiggy’s, that’s only half true.  They are one of best organizations we’ve come across since starting VRN, and I have also benefited personally from their program.  Jamie and I were blessed to have had our puppy soul-mate, Lola, for 11 ½ years before she passed in January.  Jen Petre, Stiggy’s founder, sent us a message not long after, with the thought that fostering a dog for them might be positive for us in the sense that it would help us in our grief for Lola, as well as help them be able to take in a great dog they would have otherwise had to pass on.  After talking about it, we decided we were comfortable with the idea of hearing puppy paws running around the house again, without feeling like we were replacing Lola, since we knew it was only temporary. About a week later, when Jen offered to let us to adopt “Sailor” and train him as a service dog for me and VRN, we couldn’t decide if we were the best foster parents because he fit right in and stayed, or the worst because we couldn’t give him up. 

Before agreeing to keep “Sailor”, I talked with Jen at length about my reservations if keeping him would prevent somebody else from being helped by such a good dog.  Over the past year I’ve tried to be as open as possible about my issues with mental health and the struggles I’ve had, and I’ve never tried to misrepresent myself.  I told Jen that I have never been diagnosed with PTSD, and I was hesitant to keep the dog at the expense of somebody might have needed him more than I did.  I have friends that have confided in me the struggle they go through with PTSD, and I pictured their faces when I told Jen I didn’t want to prevent somebody else from getting help. 

In the end, I agreed for two reasons.  First, Jen assured me that he didn’t have to be a service dog for me personally if I wasn’t comfortable with that.  He could be a service dog for VRN and fulfill his mission by helping us help the veterans that reach out to us.  And second, Jamie convinced me that it was time we accepted somebody else’s offer of help.  We had just recently been talking about the last year and how taxing it had been on us personally, and on more than one occasion I had talked to Jamie about feeling like I was in a rut.  

I’m certainly not making myself out to be a martyr or asking for any pat on the back, but the fact is, through starting VRN, we’ve exposed ourselves more than ever in the past year, and while Jamie, Laura and I have tried to dedicate our efforts to helping others, it’s often at the expense of looking out for ourselves.  So after some convincing, our service dog in-training had a new home and a new Army-themed name.  “Recon” was here to stay. 

Since we got Recon the second week of February, we have taken him to Stiggy’s once a week to work on his training.  He came to us very well trained as a former member of the Leader Dogs for the Blind program, and we’re constantly amazed at how smart he is.  After about 8 weeks, he passed his Canine Good Citizen test, earning his CGC patch and service dog vest complete with an, “In Training” tag on it. 

I know he pretty quickly had an impact on Jamie and me.  And, I can definitely recognize the difference he’s made for me personally.  He makes it hard for me to check out mentally, which is something I’m really good at, because I know he needs my attention; he needs to be fed, exercised, let out to use the bathroom, played with, and groomed.  Plus, he’s just got too much energy for me to lie around all day in a rut.   He also brings me joy.  I like to see him figuring things out in his training, and learning how to do the tasks we ask him to do.  I’ve never been overly anxious going out in crowds, but I definitely am not a fan.  I avoid certain places at certain times because I don’t want to deal with the crowds, and I have a finite amount of time that I can handle being in surrounded by people before I just have to leave.  I’m sure Jamie can give more than one example of us not making it to the register to pay because I hit my limit and had to put everything down and walk out of a store.  One minute things are fine and we’re laughing together looking at ugly Christmas sweaters, and the next minute I can’t get out of the store fast enough. 

Since we’ve been able to take Recon out in public, I don’t hit that wall quite as hard.  I’m still not comfortable going to IKEA, no matter the time of day, but when there is a crowd, I don’t feel as uneasy because I like seeing how he handles everything and he gives me something else to focus on.  And, we’re only in the beginning phases with him.  Soon he’ll be learning how to turn lights on, search the house, and other quality of life tasks that will help me in ways that counseling and medicine don’t. 

Eventually the VA’s study will run its course and they’ll figure out what many of us who have the privilege of working with Stiggy’s already know: that service dogs SAVE LIVES as well as increase the quality of life.  It will take millions of dollars and at least three more years for the government to figure this out.  In the meantime 22 veterans a day will continue to take their own life. 

We don’t have three years. We don't have millions of dollars. You know what else we don't have? The luxury of time to wait, while so many lives are on the line.  By supporting us and sponsoring a cross, you are helping us help Stiggy’s and the work they are doing to save veterans today, not three years from now.  

To sponsor a cross, you can donate through our PayPal account via the "donate" button on this blog, via the "donate" button on our Facebook page, or contact us directly if you'd like to mail a check. Thank you for your continued support of Veteran’s Refuge Network and your commitment to eliminating veteran suicide with us.  Together, we’re making a difference. 


  1. Please direct me to the donate button


    I call out to all American Veterans on 1 Jan 2016 For one day

    displaying this is the military way of saying we are under dress

    YOUR FLAG UPSIDE DOWN (for Duress) We are under siege (ANYONE THAT


    KEEP THE STATUS QUO). the VA is covering up and will continue the

    same methods as before. but if
    20 million Flags are in DURESS across our country Our Washington

    Representative will have to act properly or be replaced... Hillary

    is not our friend and neither is Bill
    I'm a disabled vet (I got my Paper work and registered in the VA as

    such) service connected i have been the system since 1986
    As one of my service officer of the VVA told me once, the people

    running the VA are
    not Vets (SOME ARE AND SHAME ON THEM), and they believe it is their

    The district offices make all decisions on all aspects of the VA

    mainly to
    determine Disability ratings for the VET's in their arena of

    influence. They
    are like any Insurance Company !!! Deny Deny Deny !!!, and hope you
    go away and give up trying. !!DON'T GIVE UP KEEP APPEALING..!! Now

    give out 142 million dollars for bonuses to the employees who take
    advantage of VET's, How many doctors or nurses could they have


    WITH THE SERVICE(COME TO DETROIT)) If you don't think I'm right,

    don't do
    it, and get what you get as a Single Vet applying for VA benefits(

    I had
    the VVA fight with me for 14 years this is all documented) REMEMBER

    1 JAN


    One Day
    Lets get something straight I would in no way dishonor our flag,

    but this is the military way of say we are under dress, and FOR One

    Day will show US as Real People who need care Vets help Vets ( Tom


  3. A veteran is defined by federal law, moral code and military service as "Any, Any, Any"... A military veteran is Any person who served for Any length of time in Any military service branch