headshot of Dave outside in a wooded area

Some people are called to serve, whether they’re actively engaged in the decision to or not. When Dave was compelled to serve his country as he entered the military in 2000, perhaps he inherited this civic-minded call to duty from both of his grandfathers. Regardless of how it came to be, it’s an innate part of whom he continues to be long after he retired from military life.

When Dave first got home from deployment in Afghanistan, he was relieved to have made it back safely and enjoyed the comforts of home. Over the next decade, he came to realize the mental health impacts that deployment had on his life.

He learned of Easterseals Massachusetts’ Military & Veteran program from a fellow Veteran who recommended the robust and varied number of activities. Dave engaged due to the expansive calendar of events offered that appeal to Veterans of all different ages and abilities. He says he and his family feel very welcome at events, as his 6- and 9-year-old daughters have joined him on several occasions. “Easterseals events are a nice opportunity to talk to them about what it means to be a Veteran and to serve, and to meet the children of other Veterans.”

While Dave has participated in several of the programs offered by Easterseals, one has really captured his heart: the partnership with Project Comeback. This program pairs Veterans and those on active duty with rescued horses. Over six weeks, participants assist the horses in recovering from trauma and reintegration into horse life while gaining valuable lessons and skills that may be used in their own lives.

Having no prior experience with horses, Dave admits he was a bit intimidated by such majestic animals. These doubts did not prevent him from taking a chance and he quickly realized it was an opportunity to be in the service of something. Dave worked with a retired thoroughbred named Percy and learned that thoroughbreds are trained hard, then quickly passed on once their racing days are over. Percy had to learn how to live a life that no longer had structure. Dave understood this feeling well and shared that he felt the same way after his time serving as a soldier had ended. Drawing that parallel between his life and Percy’s allowed Dave to draw on his own strengths throughout the rehabilitation process. Through this program, Dave shares, “The pain I have gone through has given me purpose and allows me to enrich the life of a beautiful animal.”

Although Dave feels he still has room to improve his mental health, he is in a much better place. A key source of support is that Dave continues to look forward to future Easterseals events, which he calls “little glimmers of light at the end of the darkness,” for all Veterans.

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