CHICAGO — A K9 program is helping area veterans with the invisible wounds they come back with from war.
Since returning home from Iraq in 2004, veteran Derek Valerio has been haunted by the things he can’t forget.
“You don’t go places, you isolate yourself,” Valerio said. “It is a living nightmare.”
With the help of the local non-profit K9s for Veterans, Valerio now walks with his dog on the banks of the first ever Forgotten Warrior Memorial at Channahon State Park. It was unveiled back in May.
The memorial was erected in honor of those who made it home, but couldn’t survive the debilitating PTSD.
“When Brandon came home, we could tell there was a noticeable difference in his personality,” mother Wendy Myers said.
Her son, Brandon Meyers, took his own life in 2013 after coming home.
“He would wake up and nights we’d find him out in the yard, doing sniper duty up on the roof… walking perimeter,” Meyers said.
Brandon’s name was the first etched at the Forgotten Warrior Memorial.
Meyers said she wishes she understood more about PTSD when her son came home.
The founder of K9’s for Veterans, Michael Tellerino, said his non-profit’s mission is to stop more names from being added to the memorial.
"I’ve seen what these dogs have done for vets and it’s a game changer”, said Tellerino.
To date, 63 vets have been gifted service dogs through K9’s for Veterans.
“He alerts me when I start my anxiety,” Valerio said. “It’s hard to be depressed when you got something like this.”
Local veterans do not pay anything for the dogs. Learn more about the program here.