I Am Able
These veterans risked it all for their country. Now, the SD Gunner Fund is providing a bridge back to civilian society where Veteran's Affairs and conventional therapies fall short.
Kinard had put in 87,000 miles in Iraq as the gunner in his unit’s Humvee, a vulnerable job in a vulnerable vehicle, but he felt blessed. Then, on combat patrol, his Humvee was hit by an IED blast. The explosion ripped off his .50 caliber machine gun, the metal searing into his chest and head. He was flung 50 feet down the road.
Kinard suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that left him with chronic nerve pain, bouts of blindness, memory loss and PTSD•and that’s the short list. He started falling into a dark hole of depression.
Enter Britnee Kinard, 36, the entrepreneurial wife of Cpl. Kinard and founder of the Service Dog (SD) Gunner Fund, born out of desperation and magnanimity. The nonprofit trains service and therapy dogs for disabled vets and kids with special needs.
“At the time I was losing my husband. He never wanted to leave the house, the blinds stayed shut and he gained over 50 pounds – everything was falling apart,” Britnee says. “I needed to come up with something that would save him and others like our friend who committed suicide.” A disabled veteran of the war in Iraq, the Kinard’s friend took his life two weeks after a veterinarian repossessed his service dog because he couldn’t pay his bills. Service dogs provide a bridge back to civilian society from the oftentimes-brutal hell of war.
After a two-year battle and multiple trips to Washington, Britnee convinced the Veterans Administration to reimburse the $15,000 cost
of training her husband’s service dog, Gunner, a Great Pyrenees.
“When I first got Gunner,” Kinard says, “I was skeptical about the whole service dog thing. I thought he was going to be a hassle. I didn’t realize he would become my savior, my heartbeat. Without him, my life doesn’t exist. He’s the blood that pumps through my veins.”
Top leaders in the Pentagon have acknowledged the high rate of suicide among veterans and spend heavily to try and reduce it through new research, programs and therapies. But basic questions about which vets are most at risk and how best to help them are still unanswered.
The idea of going beyond prescriptions•and especially beyond opioid painkillers to treat the chronic wounds of war•has been a key focus of the VA. Today, 652 disabled veterans receive benefits for the care of service dogs, but the VA
could do better.