Freedom’s Program for Veterans
Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind recognizes, appreciates and supports the service and sacrifices of all service members past and present. In recognition of service to our country, Freedom will place a guide dog at no cost, anywhere in the continental United States with a veteran who has lost vision in the line of duty. We are deeply appreciative to those who have fought for our FREEDOM and so we attempt to give back some measure of FREEDOM and independence to blind and visually-impaired veterans. Below are several stories of veterans we have been able to assist (some with multiple disabilities). To learn more about our veterans program, please call 315-822-5132.
JAMES FAIR AND OAKLEY
James Fair joined the military right out of high school and worked his way up to being a mid-level leader. In December 2003, he became forever changed. While walking back from a work detail, a bomb exploded…..that is all he remembers. James was left with no vision and no hands.
The journey to recovery has been a long one. Through numerous surgeries, different hospitals and seemingly endless efforts with rehabilitation, James has persevered. He was able to return home to Pittsburgh, PA where he lives with family, the support system that has seen him through the worst of times.
After being turned down by other guide dog schools, James was ready to give up. But with Freedom’s Hometown Training program, he was able to obtain a guide dog.
Working with James’ occupational therapist, Freedom was able to adapt training methods and equipment to his individual needs. The dog’s collar was adapted so that James could easily put it on the dog and take it off. The leash that fits around James’ shoulder gives him the ability to use it with his arm for control of the dog. Also, when considering how James was going to hold the harness, a rowing prosthetic worked best to give James a firm grip.
James and his guide dog, Oakley, continue to make progress every day. His patience and perseverance have given him the freedom and independence that he deserves.
DAVID STEMMERICH AND SARGE
For ten years, David Stemmerich of Parker, Pennsylvania devoted his life to serving as a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army. He completed two, one-year tours in Iraq as an Infantryman. Between tours, he was stationed in South Korea for four months. At just 28 years old, David suffers from a traumatic brain injury, caused by the IED explosions and severe post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD creating a myriad of mental, social and physical problems that have deeply affected both David and his family. His wife, Stephanie says David isolates himself from everyone, including his toddler daughter.
Eric practiced diverse training with Sarge in public places such as restaurants, malls, etc. He then spent time taking trips in public with Sarge and David together. David and Sarge continue to make progress every day. While David remains emotionally disconnected from most, Stephanie sees hope through his interactions with his assistance dog, Sarge, a German Shorthaired Pointer. With Sarge as his security, David is able to slowly venture back out into the world.
It is a long, slow journey, but he is on his way to living a happier, more independent life with his wife and daughter. Read more about David and Sarge by clicking here.
ERIC MARTZ AND DEACON
Before losing his sight in a road-side bomb explosion, Sgt. Eric Martz served with the National Guard in Iraq. Today he is able to travel independently with the help of his guide dog, Deacon, aka “Deacon the Beacon.”
The road to recovery for Sgt. Martz has been a long one. However, with Freedom’s Hometown Training service, Eric has been able to regain his independence without having to leave home. Freedom Guide Dogs brought a well-trained Deacon to Eric at his home in North Dakota, training the team in a familiar setting on commonly traveled routes without interruption of Eric’s daily routines.
“In the Army we train with a buddy, you entrust your life with that soldier. Deacon is my new battle buddy. I put my life in his hands getting around town.”
CHRIS PAISER AND IKE
Chris Paiser of Plattsburgh, NY, was a sergeant in the Army National Guard for seventeen years. He was deployed to Iraq in 2004 with the 108th Infantry as a fire-team leader. On June 16, 2004, Chris’ life changed forever when 57mm Hellfire rockets hit the post exchange where Paiser had taken his team on a day off. Chris lost vision in both eyes….along with his independence.
Through a contact at the Wounded Warrior program, Paiser met Eric Loori, Executive Director of Freedom Guide Dogs. He was particularly interested in Freedom’s Hometown Training program since it made sense to him to train with his dog in the community where he would be using his guide.
And that is how Paiser’s guide dog, Ike, changed his life by providing freedom and independence. To read more about Chris and Ike, click here