World War II Veteran Helps Returning Vets Find Comfort With Service Dogs
Lifestyle| | By Margo Gothelf
With the help of some playful pups, Irwin Stovroff found a way to bring joy to suffering veterans.
The 94-year-old vet knew the impact of a service dog, as he received first-hand treatment with his own service dog after he returned from fighting in World War II with PTSD.
“Some of these vets come back in such bad shape — without limbs or loss of vision — and they just feel like giving up,” Stovroff told Today. “They want to be left alone and not have anything to do with their children or spouses. We then provide them with a service dog and it changes everything.”
At just 19, Stovroff flew 35 missions in the Air Force. During his last mission, he was shot down and captured by the Germans. Since he was Jewish, Stovroff was segregated and spent a year in prison.
After being freed in 1945, Stovroff spent a month in a prisoner-of-war camp to recover or “the Air Force’s version of a psychologist at the time.”
“When you become a prisoner, you lose all your rights and have to rely on your enemy for food, clothing, shelter, everything,” he said. “The combination of all I experienced adds up and can wear on you.”
Stovroff then left the battlefield behind and went to work in sales until he retired in 1998. During his retirement, he began to volunteer at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center in Florida where he realized he could help others like himself.
“I realized I had come through a lot of hell and had the opportunity to help those returning from war,” Stovroff said.
While helping out at the VA, Stovroff realized the government doesn’t help fund any type of service dogs and quickly realized that needed to be changed.
Since then, Stovroff has been able to help many veterans including a man named Tyson. After retuning from his tour, Tyson was lost. The Army veteran wasn’t spending time with his family and was suffering from PTSD. Tyson then paired up with a service dog named Argon and it completely shifted his mood.
“When the days were so dark for Tyson, I wasn’t sure if I could get through to him,” his wife wrote in a letter addressed to the service dog. “I am so glad you are here with us. You have brought life back into Tyson.”
Stovroff also takes his own service dogs, Cash, a golden retriever, and Jenny, a corgi, to the VA center to help comfort other veterans.
“Cash has become an integral part of Vets Helping Heroes since I got him eight years ago,” Stovroff said. “He’s the mogul of the organization and comes with me everywhere — including speeches I make so people can actually see what a service dog can do.”
Stovroff is not letting his old age slow him down and hopes to continue Vets Helping Heroes and helping other veterans like him.
“I’m 94 years old and it’s a blessing to get here. I didn’t think I’d get to 21 when I was flying,” Stovroff said. “But I’m here and am committed to keep going so we can get more vets the help they need.”