Doors are opening for veterans in North Iowa, thanks to programs being offered by Family Alliance for Veterans of America, Inc. (FAVA) in Forest City, Iowa. The organization’s website went live four years ago today on 11/11/11. Since this grassroots organization obtained office space on Sept. 4, 2012, more than 3,080 veterans and family members have been served.
In the November 18, 2011, Congressional Record, former Congressman Tom Latham is quoted as saying, “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the exceptional work that the Family Alliance for Veterans of America has been doing on behalf of our veterans, and to congratulate them on the recent launch of their cutting-edge website. FAVA’s Chairman, Rhonda Jordal, has been a tireless advocate for veterans and military families for numerous years. Because of her commitment, FAVA has been at the forefront of providing information, advocacy and support to our veterans and their families in their most crucial time of need.
Veterans Day is celebrated annually on November 11 to honor all U.S. veterans and victims of war. Today we’re honoring those who serve former military servicemen and women by introducing you to FAVA’s Battle Buddy program.
“Our main goal is to help veterans in need and to improve the veteran’s quality of life,” says Rhonda Jordal, founder and executive director of FAVA. Her son, Steven, joined the Army in 2002 and served two combat tours in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Air Assault. Steven was injured during his second deployment and received an honorable medical discharge in 2007.
Battle Buddies, or “spokes dogs,” help teach others about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, suicide prevention and service dog access. These dogs and their trainers are used in educational outreach programs to military families, communities, colleges and technical schools, attorneys and judges, corporations and law enforcement. They also visit schools. Children learn when they see a service dog in public that they are not to ask to pet it, and they also should not to ask someone why he or she has a service dog.
“Many people don’t realize that, by law, service dogs and their owners/trainers can go anywhere the general public can go,” says Rhonda. “A service dog has a job to do. Often times, the aid of a service dog allows that person to go out in public and feel safe.”
Laying the foundation for FAVA’s Battle Buddy program began in 2009 when Steven Jordal volunteered at a service dog agency for more than two years. In 2011, he attended the Karen Pryor Academy where he learned how to positively train dogs for obedience and agility. Now Steven coordinates the Battle Buddy program for FAVA in which trained service dogs will be matched with veterans.
The 2015 Battle Buddy class is the first large scale class, involving an important collaboration with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. 4-H members and their families host the dogs and aid in their training.
“This partnership is a win-win,” says Rhonda. “The youth are wonderful with the dogs. 4-H members meet weekly with Steven to get training tips. Each month the 4-H members and the dogs they’re fostering take a field trip to someplace like the Minnesota Zoo or Enchanted Acres pumpkin patch.
Field trips provide real-life training situations for the dogs, plus 4-H members gets to enjoy time with their families in different settings. They also attend speaking engagements to demonstrate what they have taught the dogs. The youth also get can get credit for 4-H dog projects, as well as 4-H photography and scrapbooking projects.
It costs approximately $20,000 to train a dog to the point it can be matched with a veteran. All of the costs – food, training equipment, treats, toys and veterinary visits – are covered through donations, sponsorships and grants through FAVA. FAVA is always looking for sponsorships, partnerships and donations to help fund the Battle Buddy program. Interested people can help sponsor the Battle Buddy program through monthly commitments or by a one-time donation or sponsorship. Feel free to call Rhonda directly at 641-243-4103.