A Photographic Series about Coming Home, PTSD, and Canine Companions      

 

 

HEAL! is dedicated to the men
and women who have served
our country during military
conflicts, have given selflessly,
and have struggled in their
return to civilian life.

In remembrance, I pay tribute
to Albert Francis Topaz, my
father, who served as a tail
gunner during World War II.

 

 

 

 

"'The Department of Veterans Affairs has formally diagnosed more than 207,171 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."

David Wood, Huff Post World, 7/4/12

 

My initial interest in working with psychologically disabled veterans partnered with service animals was sparked by the deep emotional connection I’ve felt for animals since a young age. This connection, combined with memories of the tragic, unsupported homecoming of my peers who served in the Vietnam War and today witnessing the return of our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan motivated me to move forward with this project, HEAL! Veterans & Their Service Dogs.

HEAL! is a multi-media project that employs photography, video, in-depth interviews, and a dedicated website to help promote discussion and foster understanding about the psychological issues veterans face, such as post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other disabilities.

Given the alarming rate of 22 veteran suicides each day, it is essential to share the personal stories of service members who suffer the psychological trauma of active duty, combat, multiple tours, military sexual trauma, or survivor guilt. Service animals as a tool for recovery can provide veterans with a new mission—to heal themselves. This shift in focus helps bring veterans out of isolation, reunites them with their families, and helps them integrate back into their communities.

As stories and imagery from HEAL! circulate, veterans in need can learn about this path for healing, and see that there is no shame in asking for help. This human-canine bond is a source of hope for such veterans’ future.

Materials from HEAL! are readily available for educational purposes, and for use in lobbying Congress to pass comprehensive legislation that supports service animals for veterans with psychological trauma.

On a personal level, working with psychologically disabled veterans brings back memories of my father who served as a tail gunner in the European theater of WWII. I’ve come to realize that he struggled with what is now identified as PTSD. After his return from war, there was little recognition or help for this condition. I see now how far we’ve come in addressing issues of our psychologically disabled veterans, and yet how much further we need to go to repay our debt for their service.

 

To find out more about Vicki's photographic work and her background please read her bio.