The connection between the legal community and military veterans was front and center Wednesday when the Jacksonville Bar Association invited K9s For Warriors CEO Rory Diamond to its meeting at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront.
Diamond was an attorney with the McGuireWoods firm before he became the nonprofitâs chief executive four years ago.
K9s For Warriors rescues dogs, trains them as service animals and matches them with military veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The veterans train with their new companions for three weeks at the organizationâs 9-acre campus in Nocatee.
Diamond said the first day of the program is devoted to paperwork because âthere is a lawyer running the placeâ and the second day is when the veteran meets his dog.
âThatâs when you see two souls come together. Thatâs when you see the healing begin,â Diamond said.
After four years of matching veterans with dogs, results show measurable improvement in the lives of the veterans.
âThe warriors are happier, their marriages last longer and their children do better in school,â Diamond said.
Another benefit is that the veteran often can reduce or eliminate the need for medication to treat PTSD.
Greg Wells, a former Army combat engineer who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and returned home with PTSD, was matched with his service dog, Utah, more than three years ago.
He said it changed his life.
âI was on 14 different medications, but I donât need PTSD meds now. The only thing that worked for me is my dog,â he said.
âHe makes me a better man, a better husband and a better father.â
Diamond said when he went to work at K9s For Warriors, the program operated in an old house with 12 employees and a $600,000 budget.
In the past four years, the organization has moved to its facility in St. Johns County and has grown to 80 employees and a $12 million annual budget.
The newest campus, in Gainesville, graduated its first class of veterans and their dogs this week, bringing the total number of veterans served to 500, Diamond said.
A facility will open early next year in San Antonio to serve veterans in western states.
âOur goal is to have five campuses in the U.S.,â Diamond said.
The nonprofit has partnered with the American Kennel Club, Petco, Dell computers and more than 30 service dog agencies to develop a federal registry of service dogs.
When implemented, it will make it easier for people who need service dogs to travel on airplanes and have easier access to other services, Diamond said.
He invited the attorneys to visit the campus in Nocatee for a guided tour and to meet veterans and their dogs in training.
âYou will feel better about the world when you leave,â Diamond said.
Storm help needed
In other business, Christian George, managing partner of Akerman Jacksonville and president of The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division, said help is needed for victims of Hurricane Matthew in the Panhandle.
In partnership with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, attorneys are staffing a toll-free hotline and providing free legal counsel for people with housing issues.
âSome landlords are still charging rent even though the dwellings are uninhabitable and some are throwing people into the street so they can try to get FEMA money. We need more volunteers,â George said.
Visit floridabar.org for information about resources and how to volunteer.
For JBA members who werenât able to attend the meeting, which was approved by The Florida Bar for 0.5 hours of CLE credit, a video CLE of the program will be available at jaxbar.org.