HAYMARKET, Va. (Nexstar) – In Virginia, one veteran is dedicated to helping other veterans in a unique way. She started a retreat to provide a getaway for veterans and their families and friends. It’s meant to be a break from the daily struggles veterans deal with like physical injuries and emotional ones.
Pierre Larkin is a veteran who retired after 32 years of serving in the Marines, Air Force and Army. “It’s hard, I have combat PTSD, that’s one of my issues,” said Larkin. He says earlier this year he found himself in a hard place – unable to find peace, “I was angry, I was upset, I was being stressed out and I was having to deal with a lot of nonsense and I needed a break.”
That’s when Larkin found Willing Warriors.
Shirley Dominick, a 22-year Air Force veteran, is the the co-founder of Willing Warriors. the non-profit organization that runs the warrior retreat at Bull Run. “And they can be cared for here like never before,” said Dominick.
She says she was inspired to open the retreat for veterans who need to just get away after a challenge at church to help others. “Going to visit the wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And that one visit changed our entire life,” said Dominick.
Dominick felt compelled to help the wounded veterans and those struggling with internal, unseen injuries. So that 40-day church challenge turned into what she calls a life-changing decision to purchase an 11,000 square foot estate, on 37 acres of land, with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The retreat is meant to house veterans and their families and friends and provide them an opportunity to heal emotionally while they work on healing physically at nearby hospitals.
“Lots of them have appointments week, day after day that they have to get to. And this really takes them out of that environment and says forget about those appointments,” said Dominick.
The house is wheelchair accessible and equipped with a theater room, games, playgrounds and a memorial garden. Veterans can also participate in activities like horseback riding or relax with a massage. And they can have gourmet meals prepared for them and their guests at the home.
Willing Warriors also partners with other nonprofits in the area, like the Mighty Oaks Foundation, that provides post-traumatic stress training to groups of veterans from around the country right on the retreat grounds.
Willing Warriors has become so popular that it’s growing. “The PenFed Foundation they gave us $300,000 so that we could build a second home,” said Dominick. And that means the organization can now help twice as many warriors. She has future plans to build two more houses on the retreat grounds.
“You have to understand that we’re institutionalized not to complain and to drive on. So, we’re not going to ask for anything,” Larkin said.
And that’s why even the small things, like getting the chance to get away for a few days can mean the world.
“The average is 22 veterans a day commit suicide,” said Larkin. In a thank you letter to Willing Warriors, Larkin wrote that every time the retreat doors open, they are reducing that 22 a day loss, by one.
Any veteran who wants to participate can get more information at willingwarriors.org.