Special report: Saving our Heroes - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Special report: Saving our Heroes

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Mike Randall, a Vietnam vet, opened the facility when he saw three of his sons suffering from PTSD Mike Randall, a Vietnam vet, opened the facility when he saw three of his sons suffering from PTSD
Jeff Bondy was always on alert in the Persian Gulf war Jeff Bondy was always on alert in the Persian Gulf war
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QUITMAN, GA (WALB) -

American military suicide rates have skyrocketed this year. Some call it an epidemic; others says it's a cry for help. But there's one south Georgia ranch that's helping soldiers overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, through horse therapy.

20 years ago, Jeff Bondy was fighting in the Persian Gulf war where he was always on alert wondering when an attack would come...

The stress was almost unbearable.  "A day didn't go by that I didn't think 'this is the day,'" said Bondy. "You know I have no reason to live anymore. I don't have any relationship with my kids because of it, I haven't spoken to my ex-wife in 12 years, and it's all because of my PTSD and the stuff I dealt with."

Bondy suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After 20 years in the Army and five tours of duty, he was diagnosed with the disorder last year.

Three months ago Bondy found the Hopes and Dreams Riding Facility in Quitman. Through horseback riding therapy and the help of ranch owner Mike Randall, Bondy says he's finally started to feel like himself again.

"Being out here, it's been a big plus. I mean I get to spend time with the horses and all the guys out here are military and we all understand what we've been through."

Our military members are facing a suicide epidemic. So far this year, over 270 active duty service members have killed themselves.

In the four years this facility has been open, Randall and his team have prevented five attempted suicides, all through horse therapy.

Randall, a Vietnam vet, opened the facility when he saw three of his sons suffering from PTSD after coming home from deployment. He says his ranch has a 100%  improvement rate, and the more than 2,500 service members he's helped live as proof.

"I want America to get behind our troops," said a weeping Randall. "They're crying out for help right now and they need us all behind them 100%. If you see one, be their friend, shake their hand, but especially if you know one what's in trouble get him help."

"It's probably about the worst thing that people can do is tell a vet is 'I understand...' Because they don't. Mike does, because Mike's been there," said Bondy through tears.

Bondy says the war memories will always be there but you have to keep moving. "You can talk to vets from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and their stories are like it happened yesterday, it never goes away you just have to learn how to deal with it and cope with it... And right here, this horse, it will do it for you." 

The Hopes and Dreams Riding Facility is a non-profit organization run by all volunteers, providing therapies free of charge.

Hopes and Dreams Riding Facility is open 7 days to any military member needing help. There are cabins on location for military to stay in while they receive therapy.

Veterans and active-duty service men and women can stay anywhere from a few days to possibly a few months, depending on how serious their situation is. 

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