By DAVE PAXTON
Technically, Eric Thomas really isn’t from Albia. But one of the three legs of his new CJ3 Foundation is and that’s part of the reason he flew in from Virginia last week with the first client, “Mike.”
Thomas is the son of Dave and Becky Thomas of Albia. His mother also goes by Dr. Rebecca Thomas who has a clinical psychology practice at the Westover Center in Albia.
Eric Thomas grew up on the east coast and carved out a career in the U.S. Army as a 19 Delta Cavalry Scout, special forces operators who serve as the eyes and ears of Army combat operatons. In his 11 years of active duty, he served a total of eight and a half years overseas, mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is now in his third year as an intelligence agent with Homeland Security.
On one of his combat tours with the Army, he was severely wounded, returning with his legs intact, but needing multiple surgeries to remove over 100 fragments from his body. As he transitioned out of the Army and into Homeland Security, Thomas knew he needed help to conquer the nightmares and flashbacks (part of the PTSD he was suffering from) and became the first Homeland Security agent to get a service dog.
“Havoc,” a Malinois, is now his constant companion and is one of three breeds of service dogs his new CJ3 Foundation is hoping to match with military veterans (some disabled), law enforcement officers, fire fighters and emergency/first responders.
“I’ve been sort of an unofficial advocate for veterans because of my own experience,” he said. “The idea of an organized, three-pronged attack to take care of veterans and emergency responders began to percolate in my head until my wife convinced me to start this.”
From his experience as a wounded veteran needing a service dog to come to grips with what happened to him, Thomas knew that simply lining up a veteran with a service dog wasn’t enough. He knew that mental health and wellness, along with advocacy services was as important as the dog itself.
Which is why CJ3 starts with three days of intensive therapy in Albia, with his psychologist mother, Dr. Becky Thomas. Part of that therapy in Albia also involves a visit to the Welcome Home Soldier site.
“This is a unique community,” said Thomas. “Albia has an affinity for veterans like a lot of communities in the Heartland. But with Welcome Home Soldier here, people think differently about veterans, police, fire fighters and first responders. There is a real feeling of wanting to help.”
Dr. Thomas, whose husband, Dave, served in the Navy during Vietnam and both sons are combat veterans of the Army, is a clinical psychologist who uses a holistic and integrative approach to mental health counseling. “My mom has a heart for veterans,” said Thomas.
“The only way to achieve optimal health is to address the whole system,” said Thomas. “The mind body and spirit. We are not making claims that a weekend will fix him or heal her. What we are offering are some esstneial tools that will get the people we’re working with on the road toward wholeness and recovery.”
Thomas calls it “tools for their toolbox,” or additional “gear for their rucksacks.”
Once the three days with Dr. Thomas are over, the CJ3 recipient is ready to be connected to a certified, trained service dog at no cost to the disabled American hero in order to restore their physical and emotional independence, empowering wounded men and women to return to life with dignity and independence.
Thomas talks about his dog Havoc like it was a comrade and friend on the front line. “He’s with me all the time,” said Thomas. “He gets up with me and tucks me into bed. He offers companion comfort, relieves my dream anxiety, can sense when I’m angry or stressed.
“Service dogs also fit into the ‘warrior mentality,’” said Thomas. “But they can turnit on and off. They can be super protective and almost aggressive and then absolutely gentle and docile around other people.”
Thomas was the first wounded veteran and new employee to walk into Homeland Security with a service dog. “There is still a stigma with some people that owning and using a service dog makes you broken,” said Thomas. “We’re gaining on defeating that attitude.”
The final part of CJ3 is advocacy. The foundation provides advocacy services at no cost to the people they support. Advocacy comes at broad legislative levels down to making sure recipients receiving the assistance they need, making referrals for services or support to other organizations to help with specific issues.
Thomas said there are a number of organizations for veterans and first responders. “Our intent is not to replicate another foundation,” he said. “But one organization doesn’t touch all the needs that are out there. Sometimes I may refer a person to another organization that can better serve a specific need.”
He added that people seeking special services should look closely at the financials of the foundation or non-profit. “One-hundred percent of what we do goes to our recipients,” he said. The foundation enlists and incorporates a network of support and services from multiple partner agencies and organizations (federal, state and local governments; private and commercial sectors; charity and advocacy groups) to provide the assistance their clients need.
Mike, the foundation’s first client has his new service dog. A second client is already in the pipeline.
If you are interested in donating to CJ3 or needing more information about the foundation and its work contact Eric Thomas at https://www.cj3foundation.org/home;