Vets who serve in conflict face many struggles. Returning to civilian life is just one challenge today’s warfighters face.
To that end, one Marine knew a service dog would be his saving grace. He wasn’t looking for any service dog — he was looking to reunite with his K9 partner — Belgian malinois named Pablo.
Marine vet David Pond struggled to find his footing while he waded through school, only breathing again when he was reunited with Pablo the bomb-sniffing dog he served with overseas. Now, Pond is turning his efforts toward helping other veterans so they don’t have to struggle in the way he did.
Pond tells The Denver Post he was trying to do everything the right way. He used his GI Bill to take classes at Metropolitan State University. He went to a Veteran Affairs hospital to be treated for a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, he was still struggling.
He wasn’t getting the help he needed at school, dropping classes so his GI Bill wouldn’t run out. The VA diagnosed him but never told him how to address his problems. He found out the first dog he worked with had been killed in combat. And he watched as areas soldiers died for be subsequently retaken by the Taliban.
“I finally hit the point where I was done,” Pond tells The Post. “I have a lot of grit and I ran out.”
Pond decided, upon suggestion from a friend, to transfer to Regis University. He found more support at Regis but was still living with many stressors and was unable to sleep at night. During his sleepless nights, he began scouring the Internet for news on his old partner Pablo.
The Post reports when Pond was at his lowest, he realized he needed to get his dog back. But the Corps is very clear — dog handlers can’t adopt the dogs, even if they’re about to retire, as was the case with Pablo.
Although his requests were initially denied, Pond kept pushing for the adoption, starting an online petition and gaining attention in the national press. Ultimately, several months later, the Secretary of the Navy signed off on Pablo’s adoption in 2015. Pond tells The Post that had never happened before.
“I can’t begin to tell you how awesome it has been to be able to get him,” he tells The Post. “I’d still be wandering around like, ‘What the (expletive) am I supposed to be doing.’”
Pond said since he was granted the impossible with Pablo’s adoption, he wants to give back, and he’s determined to help vets navigate the areas where he found trouble.
The Post reports Pond joined forces with Regis’ associate provost Janna Oakes and Nathan Matlock, director for the study of war experience, to create an endowed scholarship for veterans to backfill GI Bill funding gaps.
“I’ve been trying to find a way to give back in some capacity,” he said. “This is the best way I can find.”
With Oakes, Matlock, and Pond working together, they’ve begun fundraising for the endowment and have so far raised $23,000 of the needed $50,000.
The Post reports once they reach the goal, they can begin using interest on the fund to award scholarships. Although all three are quick to clarify that $50,000 was just a starting point and they hope to raise much more.
They say the fund is intended to help vets cover housing costs — especially during breaks and holidays, summer tuition, school supplies and other expenses, such as childcare, utilities, transportation and basic living expenses.
Oakes contends vets are really struggling — especially in Denver where living costs are quite high. She tells The Post many veterans using the GI Bill are living below the poverty line, and the problem is exacerbated as veterans tend to be older, may have a family to help support and can’t rely on their family in the way many younger undergraduates can, she said.
The Post reports the scholarship team is aiming to reach its financial goal by June 1 so they can begin distributing funds for the fall semester. Although only halfway to the goal, the group is confident they can do it, asking interested donors to go online to make a donation.
Alumni also support Pond’s efforts to give back to his brothers and sisters in arms.
“Veterans have been through so much,” Col. John T. Alenius, Regis College Alumnus, Class of 1961 writes on the school’s donor page. “I support the Military Scholars Fund because I want to make a difference for those who have served and help veterans do something they may not be able to do otherwise.”
Pond is excited for the future and is looking forward to seeing what the fund will accomplish.
He tells The Post once the fund is fully solvent, he can finally walk away and focus on what’s coming next.
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