ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Motorcyclists from across the Capital Region rode their bikes in support of Operation at Ease on Saturday. The Capital Region-based organization pairs rescued dogs from shelters with veterans and first responders. Some dogs are trained to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and mobility.
“The reason we started it is because there were no resources available for veterans or first responders to get the service dogs they needed,” Joni Bonilla, Founder of Operation at Ease, said.
Bonilla said she wants to use her platform and the work Operation at Ease does to raise awareness on the stigma PTSD and mental health carries.
“Just normalizing mental health, normalizing not being okay after something bad happens, mainstreaming the idea that you’re not permanently broken,” Bonilla said.
Adirondack Corvettes raises money for Operation at Ease and other charities through their car shows and events, a cause one member said is crucial to bringing more people together.
“We’ve been blessed to have these beautiful cars and we are having a great time with each other, and it feels good to give back to something especially local,” Kris Riddervold, Member of Adirondack Corvettes, said.
By Andrew Waite | August 18, 2022 https://dailygazette.com/2022/08/18/awareness-ride-lobbying-to-drop-d-from-ptsd/
SCHENECTADY -– Jon Fox was 850 feet in the air when his parachute malfunctioned during a 2013 training jump at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The infantryman in the U.S. Army fell backward onto a downward slope that bore enough of the brunt of the fall to save his life. Years later Fox would learn he’d suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, vertebrae and spine damage, as well as a fractured right hip. But when Fox landed, he was in such severe shock that he crawled away from the drop zone without realizing anything was wrong. To this day, he experiences night terrors and flashbacks that return him to the moments of crawling away. Fox, now 38 and living in Hoosick with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, but there is part of him that wishes it wasn’t referred to as a disorder. “If you were to say, ‘Hey, I have post traumatic stress,’ that doesn’t sound so bad. When you say ‘I have a disorder,’ it’s like there is something wrong with me. And that’s really unfair to say someone has a disorder. It’s kind of like re-victimizing someone,” Fox said. Fox is part of a chorus of local veterans and veterans organizations that are lobbying to drop the “D” from PTSD. In fact, dropping the D is the rallying cry of Operation At Ease’s 4th-annual Post Traumatic Stress Awareness Ride, which will feature roughly 200 motorcyclists traveling from Spitzie’s Harley-Davidson of Albany to the Nanola restaurant in Malta on Saturday. “Our whole purpose of this ride is to mainstream the idea that posttraumatic stress is not a disorder,” said Joni Bonilla, Operation At Ease’s founder. “It’s normally called PTSD, and for this ride we dropped the D. A disorder implies that something medically unnatural is happening to your brain, when posttraumatic stress is the brain’s normal, healthy and natural reaction to trauma,” said Joni Bonilla, Operation At Ease’s founder. Registration for the event, which is using the hashtag #itsnotadisorder, begins at 10 a.m., and the cost is $20 per rider and $10 per passenger. The ride is a fundraiser for Operation At Ease, which pairs dogs from shelters with veterans and first responders and provides a free guided training program for posttraumatic stress and light mobility service dogs. “We just figured there is no better way to make a lot of noise than ride a couple hundred bikes through town,” Bonilla said of Saturday’s event, which will also feature live music, vendors and raffles. The Riser Motorcycle Association, based in Westerlo, is helping to put on the event. Michael Hicks plans to attend the ride in his role as co-founder of #HicksStrong, which connects veterans and active duty service members to mental health professionals and covers the cost of up to 24 therapy sessions. The Clifton Park-based nonprofit, which has helped connect 188 service members in 44 states to 1,350 therapy sessions, came to be after the Hicks family got a call every parent dreads. Macoy Austin Daniel Hicks, a “ball of fire with a ton of energy,” served in the U.S. Navy from February 2017 to February 11, 2019, according to Michael Hicks, Macoy’s father. Stationed in Washington, D.C. as a rifleman in the Ceremonial Guardsman, Macoy was involved in the services of up to eight funerals a day. Those grim duties took their toll on Macoy’s mental health, and his struggles continued when he was assigned to the USS Nimitz in Bremerton, Wash, Hicks said. After seeking help and not getting it, Macoy took his own life at age 20, Hicks said. Hicks said he supports any action that can remove the stigma around people seeking mental health services. “The stigma that the ‘disorder’ word adds, it can give an individual a feeling that they will never be able to get through their posttraumatic stress,” Hicks said. “The reality is we can work through it, we can adapt and cope with the posttraumatic stress. Dropping the D can, in essence, give hope to the individual that is struggling with it.” The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs believes PTSD should continue to be considered a disorder. “PTSD is comparable to other conditions in the (American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual) that also use the term ‘disorder,’ such as Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Alcohol Use Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” said a VA spokesperson. “PTSD is more than just ‘stress,’ and the term ‘posttraumatic stress’ has no clear scientific or diagnostic meaning.” The spokesperson rejected the idea that dropping the word disorder will encourage people to seek treatment. “Some have suggested that using the term ‘post traumatic stress’ and avoiding the word ‘disorder’ would make veterans more comfortable with the diagnosis and with seeking treatment. There is no evidence that this is the case, and it is not likely given the more general stigma about seeking treatment for mental health problems in veterans and non-veterans,” according to the spokesperson. “It is even possible that not using the word disorder would lead to a failure to recognize the seriousness of PTSD and its impact on those who are affected.” But veterans like Fox disagree. Fox was connected with Operation At Ease in 2019 after his wife, a licensed mental health counselor, found the Schenectady-based program. At the time, Fox was rejecting a lot of the programs and services being offered, and he felt guilty about collecting military retirement after serving only 3.5 years. At the time of his parachute accident, he was mere months from deployment. But in Operation At Ease, Fox found a service he was willing to embrace. Bonilla – a professional dog trainer and military spouse – started Operation At Ease in 2015 to help a friend and four-time combat veteran who was struggling with the loss of his pet dog. Through the program, Fox was given Gunner, a 60-pound mix, and Fox now considers the dog his “battle buddy,” which is a concept he learned in the Army that has to do with having a regular partner who can empathize with the struggles of service. Now, when Fox is having symptoms of trauma and puts up his hands to hide his face or picks at his cuticles or scabs, Gunner is there to stop him. “He’ll actually nuzzle me with my nose and get right up in my face so it’s hard for me to keep my hands there,” Fox said. In a way, the benefit of having Gunner in his life is a simple but significant one – like the benefit that Fox said would come from dropping the D out of PTSD. Both Gunner and dropping the D can work to remove barriers to care and feelings of isolation, Fox said. “He allows me to go out in the world. I can go out and focus on him if I feel uncomfortable somewhere,” Fox said of Gunner. “He’s allowed me to keep a human life going.” Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.
Albany Times Union
1 Aug 2022
By Terry Brown
News of your troops and units can be sent to Times Union, Duty Calls, Terry Brown, Box 15000, Albany, NY 12212 or email@example.com
Courtesy of Operation At Ease
Richard Fazzone prepares his canine companion Gracie for training at Operation At Ease in Rotterdam.
A Navy veteran has found a lively way to keep post-traumatic stress at bay.
Richard Fazzone of Gloversville experienced a number of traumatic events while on Navy duty. That left him angry, isolated, and depressed at times.
He was his mother’s caregiver before she died and his dad died of COVID-19. The recent loss of his parents also impacted his life.
Fazzone turned to Operation At Ease, a nonprofit program in Rotterdam, that pairs shelter canines with deserving veterans and first responders.
Joni Bonilla, OAE founder, helped Fazzone adopt Gracie, a mutt, from the Hudson-mohawk Humane Society in Menands, earlier this year.
Since then, Bonilla, a certified dog trainer, and an intern, Danielle Gioielli, have been working with Fazzone and Gracie to turn the dog into a post-traumatic stress and light mobility service dog. Classroom sessions are at OAE, 203 Central Ave., Rotterdam.
Fazzone and other handlers in the program are assigned homework — training drills. They train in their homes and in urban settings such as malls, restaurants, parks crowded with people. Upon completion of the eight-month program, Fazzone and service dog in-training Gracie will have to pass two American Kennel Club tests and a public access test.
Fazzone has already started to benefit from the program.
“Not only have I rescued Gracie, Gracie has rescued me,” Fazzone said after a training session.
It was apparent; the two have bonded well and are affectionate to each other. Gracie is very quick at getting focused on Fazzone.
“Gracie has helped me a lot already and helps me deal with isolation, anxiety and depression,” he said before he took Gracie to a park under Bonilla’s guidance. “She helps calm me down. I am more active because of her. I experience less anxiety. When I feel down, she lifts me up.”
Gracie had issues, too. But the training has helped, for example end incessant barking, according to Bonilla. Bonilla has two other missions. She encourages people to drop certain words regarding veterans.
Regarding post-traumatic stress, Bonilla leaves out “disorder,” she said, as a way to rid stigma.
“Unfortunately it is a long-held belief in our society that post-traumatic stress is a disorder,” she said. “At OAE we are working hard to stop the stigma associated with trauma and invisible wounds through outreach and community events. With proper treatment and intervention injuries can heal.”
The other mission is prompting an awareness that veterans are not disabled, they are deserving veterans, she says.
“Our veterans are deserving rather than disabled,” Bonilla says. “I think it’s is important to stop the stigma that veterans return home irrevocably broken.”
Bonilla and her other trainers have successfully paired more than 100 handlers with rescued canines since she started the program in 2015. The program is free to deserving veterans, and first responders, including those with PTS, traumatic brain injury, injuries, and or wounds.
As a military spouse, she is very familiar with what military personnel as well as first responders must endure including battlefield, violence and bad accident experiences.
Bonilla is a certified trainer, AKC evaluator and has earned a degree in animal care from North Shore Community College, Lynn, Mass. She combined her education, personal experiences and dog training to come up with ways dogs can be trained to help keep their owner’s post-traumatic stress at ease and or prevent relapses.
She had learned there are long wait lists and high costs for service dogs. That motivated her to found Operation At Ease.
The program is open to veterans, first responders and others who are dealing with post-traumatic stress that could be combat related, relating to sexual and other abuse as well as anything that’s traumatic, according to Bonilla.
To enroll in a future class, contact Joni Bonilla at 518-847-9941 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help finance future service dog teams donations are needed. To make a donation, send checks to Operation At Ease, P.O. Box 9156, Schenectady, NY 12309.
The fourth annual PTS Awareness Ride for the benefit of OAE will be
held at noon Saturday, Aug. 20 at Spitzies, 1970 Central Ave., Colonie. Registration for the motorcycle ride event will begin at 10 a.m. Kick stands go up at noon. Music, entertainment, lunch, raffles and vendors are planned for the end of the motorcycle ride at the Nanola Restaurant, 2639 Route 9, Malta.
Donation is $20 per rider and $10 per passenger.
Coast Guard celebration
The Coast Guard’s 232nd birthday will be celebrated by the Coast Guard Auxiliary at 10 a.m. Saturday aboard the USS Slater berthed at Broadway and Quay Street, Hudson River, Albany.
On Thursday and Saturday, Coast Guard veterans can tour the USS Slater, a World War II Navy destroyer escort, for free. The museum ship is open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays through Nov. 27.
Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $8 for children and children younger than 5 are free.
During World War II Coast Guard members manned hundreds of Navy and Army vessels, including 30 destroyer escorts like the Slater. Slater and other escorts hunted enemy submarines, protected convoys to Europe, and delivered troops and supplies. Escorts battled U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic.
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