Every year, some 40,000 critically ill American men, women and children seriously in need of medical treatment and diagnosis go untreated simply because they cannot afford the airfare to facilities and doctors who may be able to help them. Since 1999, the Hogan Angel Flight program in Newbury Park has served as a safety net for some of these financially distressed individuals when other resources are not available.
The Hogan Family Foundation’s Hogan Angel Flight program works with Air Charity Network and Mercy Medical Angels to help needy patients throughout the country. Much of this assistance is in the form of purchasing commercial airline tickets, which often cost more when purchased at the last minute, as is often the case when transporting people in need of emergency surgery and urgent care. Such expenses cost the Hogan Angel Flight program alone about $250,000 annually.
While Mercy Medical has received some airline support in the past, resources are dwindling, including a recent setback of a major airline sponsor pulling a million dollars a year in free seats from Mercy Medical. Much of the carrier’s support funded a Mercy Medical program called Angel Canines for Wounded Warriors, which provides transportation for disabled veterans to receive service dogs that help them with their everyday needs. Begun in 2009, over 1,500 missions have been flown to connect veterans with their new canines.
“Mercy Medical is the only patient transport charity responding to this unique need for veterans often suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, loss of mobility and other conditions caused during military service. When the airline dropped its sponsorship, we felt we needed to step up and help fill the void,” says Christine Hogan, executive vice president of the Hogan Family Foundation.
Sadly, the demand is much higher than the availability of dogs, which are specially trained to suit exacting needs of the veterans they will serve. The process can take several airline trips that must be funded to link the former soldier with his or her new partner.
The first two veterans aided through Hogan Angel Flight were Kayne Shum and Wayne Birmingham. Both had special needs that could be attended to by highly trained dogs.
Injured Marine Appreciates Canine’s Acts of Service
Thirty-four-year-old Kayne, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, shattered his back in a skydiving accident in December 2012. Surgeries and rehab brought him back, but left him confined to a wheelchair. He needed another set of legs.
That aid came in the form of his new best friend Nikki, a yellow lab provided by NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services), which serves the deaf and disabled and has a special program for veterans. Kayne spent two weeks training with Nikki on the NEADS campus in Princeton, Massachusetts, and, now, back home in Kansas, Nikki retrieves items Kanye drops, gets things from the fridge, opens and closes doors and performs many other helpful tasks.
Guide Dog Keeps Veteran on Solid Ground
Vietnam veteran Wayne Birmingham, who has lost his sight, has a spring in his step now, thanks to his new buddy Maverick, a 3-year-old yellow Labrador and a gift from Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind.
The New York-based charity is one of only two charities that will train a blind person where he or she lives; a service essential to someone like Wayne. Hogan Foundation, again in partnership with Angel Canines for Wounded Warriors, provided flights for trainer Eric Loori and Maverick to and from Bardwell, Kentucky.
Ms. Hogan noted, “Both men have regained some of their independence lost with their injuries while serving our country. We salute them and thank them for their sacrifices. The program has proved to literally save the lives of American veterans, but there is so much more to be done.”
Steve Craven, a 20-year Mercy Medical Angel Flight volunteer, who coordinates the canine flights, knows the life-changing opportunities offered by the program.
“Our disabled veterans need a great deal of support and we desperately need to expand the Angel Canines for Wounded Warriors program,” says Craven. “We are so blessed by the Hogan family and hope others will join in this important mission to benefit our brave military personnel.”
National K9 Veterans Day
During World War I, European countries used dogs in the military as sentries, message carriers, scouts and for other duties. Taking note of their canine successes, the United States started a program called Dogs for Defense, which was initiated by private citizen Alene Erlanger, along with the American Kennel Club and many dog breeders.
Together, the group trained the dogs for military use; March 13, 1942 marks the official launch of the U.S. Army K9 Corps and, in November of that year, the first Dogs for Defense assignments saw their canines shipped off to North Africa, where they proved their value and their valor. As the war progressed, Mrs. Erlanger and her supporters couldn’t keep up with the growing demand, so the Remount Branch, Service Installations Divisions took over the training and this country’s War Dog Program was launched. Formerly, Remount Branch was charged with procuring horses and mules for the military.
Over the years, specially trained K9s have maintained important roles in the military, law enforcement, rescue and other programs, such as Angel Canines for Wounded Warriors. National K9 Veterans Day is now celebrated annually on March 13. The acknowledgement was the brainchild of Joseph White, a retired military dog trainer. Joe has since passed on, but today, his mission to keep the National K9 Veterans Day program alive is carried on by TheDogPlace, which notes these four-legged heroes “protect our military, guard our borders, and heal our wounded veterans.” For more information on current programs operated by the Hogan Family Foundation, visit HoganFoundation.org.