Billie Gibson needs help. He's not shy about that.
The Auburn resident and Army veteran who served in Vietnam has diabetes and uses a wheelchair.
There also are other problems.
“I have a lot of nightmares and flashbacks,” Gibson said. “I have problems getting upset.”
There is hope, however.
Our Turn to Serve, a Roanoke-based nonprofit founded more than a decade ago and referred to by members as OTTS, is working to pair Gibson with a canine companion to help with some of those issues. Several veterans gathered Saturday at the Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum on O'Day Road for a “day of training and fellowship.”
OTTS helps find and train service and therapy dogs for veterans like Gibson. The organization pays to train the animals, and the cost is about $10,000.
Donations can be made through its website, ourturntoserve.org.
Tamara Goodman, an OTTS board member and Army veteran who uses a dog – Gabriel, a 6-year-old black lab and Rottweiler mix – to help with anxiety, said get-togethers like Saturday's allow veterans to meet, mingle and share.
“It's a really nice way to keep the veterans networking together,” she said. “It's a nice way to support each other.”
Research has shown mental health problems are prevalent among veterans.
A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed about 4.6 million veterans were seen at facilities run by the Veterans Health Administration. About a quarter of those – 1.1 million – had illnesses including depression, anxiety, substance use disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Russ Goodman, Tamara's husband and also an Army veteran, said he has seen how the dogs can help.
One man, he said, was quiet and did little to interact with others. The veteran is talkative now and attends OTTS functions.
“It's amazing what these dogs do for these guys,” Russ Goodman said.
Mike Rowland owns Animal Training and Development and trains dogs for OTTS. He said he agrees, and the organization needs help from other organizations such as animal shelters to help find dogs for the veterans.
“There's so many people that are really struggling,” Rowland said.