Denise Durepos is one of the latest veterans to complete This Able Veteran’s Trauma Resiliency Program held in October 2023 in Carbondale, Illinois. At the end of the program, Durepos was paired with her service dog, Aspen.
“I had never owned a dog before, so I guess you could say I did not know much about dogs in general. But, since returning home from my time with This Able Veteran, Aspen now sleeps with me in my bed. That is a true indicator of how much I have fallen in love with him. He is the most amazing dog in the world,” says Durepos.
Durepos grew up in a rural community in New Mexico where there was not much opportunity for professional growth.
“My father spent his military career in the US Airforce, so my family was naturally military oriented. My sister had joined the air force one year before me and my brother joined the Navy six months after me. I was only 17 years old, but I was ready to see the world,” she said.
Durepos military career initially began in Omaha, Nebraska, but she soon went overseas and spent the next ten years traveling Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
“I was in the Air Force in the Communications department and worked as a computer operator. I was there at the beginning of the Internet, so it was an exciting time of life. I remember I had a top-secret security clearance and I sent messages all over the world,” Durepos said.
Durepos’ 13-year military career took her to Desert Storm but afterward, the military had a drawdown encouraging personnel to leave. She left the military and got her bachelor’s degree in psychology and communicative disorders from the University of New Mexico. She also received her master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology from the same university. Durepos went on to work in public schools in behavior intervention programs with students who had been in foster care and who had been in and out of the juvenile detention system.
“I did that work for thirteen years, but at one point when I had a lot going on in both my personal and professional life, I had a subsequent breakdown. I was diagnosed with PTSD. With the help of some wonderful doctors, I slowly recovered. Eventually I was released, but I knew I was not out of the woods yet,” she said.
“When the pandemic happened, I really started to isolate myself, and I knew that was not good for me at all. I felt like if I could get into a program that would provide me with a service dog, I could maybe get the help I needed,” Durepos said.
Durepos’s sister encouraged her to apply to This Able Veteran’s Trauma Resilience Program.
“I had gone online and looked at all the different service dog organizations, and This Able Veteran sounded like the most knowledgeable about service dogs. They also understood veterans suffering from PTSD. So, I applied and eventually, I was accepted into the program,” she said.
Durepos was initially full of self-doubt wondering if she could take care of another life. But with encouragement from her sister and from others, she committed to the program.
“If other veterans are trying to decide if This Able Veteran’s program is a good fit for them, I would encourage them to just go with it and watch it work wonders. The program is amazing. But there will be times when you feel as if you are on a roller coaster ride. You might not feel like you understand, but I encourage you to stay with it. I now feel like I am going in the direction of helping other people now. I have not been there in a long time,” Durepos said.
As for the staff and volunteers who she met while attending the Trauma Resilience Program, Durepos has nothing but positive things to say.
“Every single person I met, to the people who picked up the dog poop, the board members, and dog trainers – everyone of them was kind. That was a super empowering feeling to be in the company of so many who wanted nothing but the best for me. All I can say is that if applicants do not apply for the program, they are definitely missing a life-changing experience,” said Durepos.
In her spare time, Durepos is building an agility course for Aspen in her backyard. She and Aspen love to hike and one of her goals is to visit as many of the United States national parks as possible.
If you would like to learn more about This Able Veteran and its mission, please visit thisableveteran.org. To learn how you can support This Able Veteran, visit https://thisableveteran.org/how-you-can-help/donate-now/. If you are a veteran or know a veteran who could benefit from This Able Veteran’s services, please contact [email protected].
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