BOISE -- Veterans Day. It is a day to honor those who have served our country in the military.But this year, a new report reveals shocking statistics about our all volunteer force.
From 2005 to 2010, military service members took their own lives at a rate of one every 36 hours. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 18 veterans die by suicide every day.
To fight this tragic trend as more troops return home in the coming weeks, screening is being done to check for risk factors like posttraumatic stress disorder. Treatment options are increasing too.
Veterans need to know that research and experience are proving that new methods to treat PTSD are very effective and sometimes unconventional. An equine specialist in eastern Idaho has known that for years. She has been giving her time and her horses to veterans since 2007, discovering with them, the power of healing on horseback.
At Tranquil Valley Sanctuary, near Malad City in eastern Idaho, it is a brand new start for veterans with severe PTSD.
Donna Thibedeau's 21 horses are mostly rescues and that is how she describes the veterans who find their way here, They fought for us, they gave up their life and their quality of life for us and we need to fight for them when they come home.
Donna is passionate about helping vets like Tyson Hunt who have been completely disabled by PTSD, a debilitating condition most of us cannot begin to understand.
She insists the horses do all the work, You get them in this environment where they see it through the horses, and they're like yeah, now I realize why I don't like to do that.
For Tyson, doing anything has been hard since he came home from the war. A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, he marched into Baghdad with the first wave of soldiers in 2003. A year and many war stories later, he limped out.
Donna said, As a combat veteran, he's got, added to that, a lot of stuff that the rest of us don't have. He's got invisible war wounds that are going to haunt him for years, if not the rest of his life.
Tyson's wounds are like invisible ghosts, Trust issues, the confidence issues. Confidence being the biggest one right now, I mean I left that in Iraq eight years ago.
And if you know horses, you know they can smell a lack of confidence a mile away.
That is why Donna put Tyson through the paces, an exercise involving a stallion named Benny, an obstacle and three buckets of grain and apples that represent the three things he values most in life.
I would say that bucket right there would be family. The other two would be trust and confidence, he pointed out. Tyson has to protect them from the stallion while convincing the strong willed horse to cross an obstacle.
This is going to be an extremely difficult situation for him because he's got to protect these things. He knows Benny kicks, Benny represents one of those ghosts, one of those things that are always endangering his family, his confidence, and his trust said Donna.
It took a while but eventually he reached success, Well I think it was a successful activity. You did a really good job. You got over the obstacle, you got through the obstacle, I know you can get through your obstacles, I know you're gonna get there, Donna told Tyson.
It hasn't quite yet transformed out into the real world but it's getting there. That's the goal, Tyson said, when asked if it was working for him
Tyson has set another goal too. Donna says this horse, Trooper, chose Tyson from the day he stepped foot on Tranquil Valley Sanctuary.
So the horse is his. Now Trooper and Tyson are training for the Tevis Cup. It's a 100 mile, one day trail ride. The grueling endurance race is a metaphor for Tyson's road forward and the first glimmer that confidence is once again taking hold.
My horse, it's a nice friendship. I mean they feel what you feel, Tyson says, It's a silent bond. I don't know how he knows exactly what I'm feeling. It's great to have someone know how I do feel inside. It's kind of corny, at least that's what I used to think, but, yeah, it's a good friendship, a good one to have, said Tyson.
Again, Donna doesn't charge veterans to participate in her horse training program. She is finalizing her non-profit status right now so she can accept donations to help pay for the care of the horses she freely gives to veterans.
Here are some resources for PTSD:
Veterans Crisis Line 800-273-8255
Boise VA Medical Center 208-422-1145
Boise Vet Center 208-342-3612
Tranquil Valley Sanctuary
Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD