Karen Jeffries has a keen understanding of the struggles disabled veterans face when undergoing rehabilitation and or in recovering from an injury sustained as a result of military service. She knows what they’re experiencing because she is a disabled veteran. Karen and her husband both served our country and returned home to unfamiliar battles they had to overcome. Since its conception in 2010, Karen has been a fearless president and CEO leading Veterans Moving Forward, a group that has helped thousands of disabled veterans heal and live normal lives by providing trained therapy dogs and service dogs. As a former Naval Commander, Karen was not shy about stepping up to lead Veterans Moving Forward.
VMF’s uniqueness stems from its meticulous custom matching of the veterans’ needs and the dogs’ capacity to support each individual veteran’s requirements. This matching process includes multiple assessments and almost two years of puppy training.
“In the course of training a service dog for another organization, I saw first hand the benefits of what a service dog can do,” Karen reflects on VMF’s beginnings. A service dog is trained for almost two years to meet the specific needs of a veteran. Karen is an advocate for this process, but felt the love and support of a service dog could heal many more.
According to Karen, “I thought, in addition to training that one dog to mitigate the specific disability of one person, why not let that dog be involved in therapy work while training?” Karen remembers from training her first service dog that they can bring so much joy to everyone they meet. VMF is unique because the animals can be placed into roles as comfort dogs and therapy dogs while they go through the formal training process to become service dogs.. A single service dog can provide unconditional support and love to scores of people before completing formal service dog training. With Karen’s new model of service dog use, VMF has successfully enhanced veterans’ quality of life through more than 23,000 face-to-face veteran engagements.
Karen has helped bring joy back to so many disabled veterans who often lose hope after returning home. She says it can be frustrating managing expectations, but VMF’s goal is to encourage disabled veterans to find the right path to heal and cope, even if the right path is not a service dog. But with these trials come countless rewards. Karen recalls a story of a Vietnam disabled veteran who, after receiving a service dog, turned his life around completely. Karen states, “His nurse said she saw him smile for the first time in eight years. He is getting outside, getting to know his neighbors after years, and he even made a Thanksgiving meal.”
Karen is so passionate about helping veterans find their place once returning home. “I founded an organization that is 100% for the needs of the veterans,” she says. “Veterans first, and the dog is a tool to help that veteran get better.” She urges others to find a need and do something to help. “All I can say is, whatever you do will come back to you ten-fold.”
If you know someone like Karen working tirelessly to improve the lives of others, nominate them today for The Daily Point of Light Award at http://www.pointsoflight.org/programs/recognition/dpol/nomination