ARIZONA’S HEART & SOL: 1 Veterans Foundation

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – About 22 American military veterans commit suicide every day.

It is a harrowing and tragic number for those who have served our country.

In this week Arizona’s Heart & Solwe highlight a local organization dedicated to supporting veterans battling PTSD.

The group reunites the veteran with a new best friend.

“A few years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD,” said David Rafus, founder of 1 Veterans Foundation.

Rafus is a Marine who has spent more than a decade driving trucks.

His symptoms, which did not appear until after retirement, took the form of nightmares.

“My wife and I had been talking about getting a service dog and we looked around and there weren’t any organizations in southern Arizona that would fundamentally help us get a service dog for us,” he said.

It was then that the couple established their foundation.

With an army of volunteers, they find dogs, mostly those put up for adoption at local animal shelters, and begin the lengthy training program.

“You have to pass a personality test,” Rafus said. “If a dog shows signs of aggression, it cannot be a service dog. They have to be able to deal with stressful situations, they have to be able to protect their veteran in a caring way, not in an aggressive way.”

Training is customized for each individual.

“We call them teammates,” Rafus said. “For most veterans, when they retire from the military, one of their biggest struggles is that their team is gone. That’s where the player part comes into play.”

These dogs can even be trained to sense when a vet is having a flashback.

“The body is going through a hormonal change and the dog can sense it before it manifests itself,” Rafus said. “The dogs will draw the veteran’s attention, draw their attention to them, to try to mitigate the circumstances of their spirit going in that direction. It’s a way of diverting their attention, so instead of diverting it to a traumatic event, divert it to the dog. It’s not a cure for PTSD, it’s a tool to help you deal with it and get productive again.”

For the life-saving work, 1 Veteran Foundation received a $300 gift certificate from the KOLD partner Casino Del Sol.

“Thank you, that’s very generous,” Rafus said. “It’s put to good use. We still need to buy more vests for our dogs and that will come in handy.”

A service dog can cost up to $30,000.

Rafus has built a dedicated network of people willing to help and they have been able to reduce the cost to $2,500.

“That $2,500 basically covers training costs, some administrative costs and small medical bills should they arise during training,” he said. “Some dogs are a little more, some less. It just depends on the needs of the dogs and the veteran we are training for.

“I was in the Marine Corps for seven years and we do things on a shoelace budget. Something that has always stuck in my mind is doing more with less. We are doing everything we can to help these vets while using as little money as possible.”

This is where our community can help.

On Saturday, March 26th at 3pm, the 1 Veteran Foundation will be hosting their Save a Pet, Save a Vet fundraiser. Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler, located at 7101 East 22nd Street.

There will be live music, a raffle and an auction. All money raised will be used to train more dogs to help more veterans. You can always make a donation by going to https://1veteranfoundation.org/.

If you know someone who represents Arizona’s Heart and Sol, use the form below. You can read about other Heart & Sol winners HERE.”

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