Episode 332 BJ Ganem Healing Veterans One Dog at a Time Transcript

This transcript is from episode 332 with guest BJ Ganem.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Hey everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And today my guest is BJ Ganem. He is the CEO of Sierra Delta, which is a wellness community centered around service to others and the love of dogs. And they offer various programs to help veterans in their transition into the civilian world, which we’re going to discuss in just a bit. But first, uh, welcome to the show, BJ. I’m really glad to have BJ Ganem: you here. Hey man, thanks for inviting me. And I love the name, Drive On. Like that’s all we need to do, right? Keep driving on. Scott DeLuzio: That’s the point, right? Um, you know, sometimes when I first started this podcast, I, I got some questions from people like, you know, where, where’d the name come from or whatever, you know, they’re thinking it’s like a car show or something like that. But it’s, it’s like, you know, when you talk to other veterans, they get it like, you know, yeah, we’re going to just drive on. Like, yeah, you might be going through something tough, something difficult, whatever, but drive on, you’ll get through it. And, um, you know, that’s kind of the goal here. Um, Uh, for the listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with you and [00:01:00] kind of your background and everything, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? BJ Ganem: Yeah. So I was, uh, I grew up in Savannah, Georgia and, uh, joined the Marine Corps after a failed year in college. So in high school, I was voted least likely to join the military. I actually went to a, uh, a military Catholic military school called Benedictine and, uh, went to Georgia Southern posted at one point. Three GPA and they politely asked me not to come back to school. And I wasn’t really interested in moving back home or getting a quote unquote, real job. So on a whim, I decided to join the United States Marine Corps. I wanted to get out there, see the world, have adventures. And, you know, I think many of us that get drawn to the military. Like that warrior aspect and the Marine Corps provided me all that, that esprit de corps. I was an infantryman. So from 96 to 2000, I was on active duty. Uh, but that was under the Clinton years before 9 11 and literally as an infantryman running around the woods, yelling, bang, bang at each other because there [00:02:00] wasn’t enough money for blanks or enough money for the gas for training. I was like, I love this, but I’m going to get out and do something else. So I got out, uh, got a job with craft foods as a salesman. Uh, stayed in the ready reserves, uh, moved up to Wisconsin cause they had an infantry battalion there and, um, joined up with golf company, second battalion, 24th Marines. And continued my Marine Corps career there doing one week in a month, two weeks a year and getting a lot of schools. There was a lot more schools available in the reserves than there was in active duty, which was strange. And then obviously 9 11 happened and changed everything, uh, for all of us. Uh, we were initially slated to go in the initial invasion, but when Turkey shut their borders, we got bumped down to 2004. And we arrived there. I got there in, um, September, um, and then I was injured Thanksgiving night of 2004 due to a roadside bomb. So, I got, you know, [00:03:00] three months in a combat zone, but, uh, we had plenty of action at the time. It was the Wild Wild West. Um, my gunner, Ryan Cantafio of Beaver Dam was killed the same night that I was injured. We had lost, uh, three other Marines, uh, on November 8th. Um, and Ramey O’Donnell and Warrens, and then Simon who was injured on that attack, eventually died from the brain injury nine months later. Uh, the sole survivor, Scott Crookton, who’s a great friend of mine, uh, survived because he had a brain tumor that he didn’t know about that would have killed him inside a year. and then they were able to take that tumor out and he was able to be the sole survivor. So that’s the backdrop. When I got back home, um, you know, I went from, uh, Baghdad to Balad to Longstool to Andrews Air Force Base to Bethesda to Walter Reed and eventually was retired in October of 2005. and started my care at the VA facility in Madison. A lot [00:04:00] of great people, but I think we all understand that the VA’s process, the bureaucracy, is not the best. Um, and it caused a lot of, a lot of pain, and a lot of, uh, confusion. There was a lot of depression, and in my lowest moment, um, going through a divorce, a bankruptcy, facing DUI charges, all the stereotypical things. It was a dog, Dozer, an old English bulldog I bought from a trailer park on my first convalescent leave. Here’s a picture of him right here. That moment after having walked home from jail, and I was going to check out, everybody else would be better off without me. It was him that helped me see through my depression that if I did check out. No one would want to take care of this big, scruff bulldog that only talent was to clear a room with his farts and get slobber in places you thought was physically impossible to get slobber into, but he was my guy. And that was enough for me to create this life on the good foot. You know, I was going to [00:05:00] focus on me. I was going to put one foot in front of the other, whether it was a God given foot or my prosthetic foot, and we were going to figure it out. And that led to me finding Sierra, founding Sierra Delta, because it was that premonition along with, All this other service dog stuff that I thought this is the answer. This could help the most amount of vets and we have so many of these things available. So that’s me in a nutshell. I’m just a grunt, uh, trying to live an epic life, uh, with empowerment, purpose, innovation and community and looking to find my way, continue to find my way and just enjoy being a service to others and cultivating the love of the dog. Scott DeLuzio: I love it. Um, I, I have two English Bulldogs myself, and I know all about the farts and the slobber. So I can totally relate to what you’re talking about there. I will talk a little bit more about Sierra Delta and everything, uh, that you guys do in just a minute. We’re going to cut to a quick commercial break though. So stay tuned. Everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. Uh, BJ, we were talking before the [00:06:00] break of your time in the military. Um, you know, you’re overseas, um, got injured over there. Um, And then you’re getting out, you transition from military to civilian life. Um, I know a lot of times that’s challenging for veterans. What was that experience like for you? Um, what, what you went through, um, from between the injuries, uh, the rehabilitation and anything else that you might’ve needed to do and, uh, you know, getting you to, you know, what you’re doing now. BJ Ganem: You know, it was, it was, um, difficult. So I transitioned out of active duty. So I went through all the TAPs, you know, and in being on the infantry side or the enlisted side on active duty, it’s very different. They work you right up until the time you’re about to get out. And then finally your first Sergeant allows you to go to TAPs and it’s just a big auditorium. And it’s death by PowerPoint. And you’re not even thinking about any of the services. They’re probably very important. All you care about is I [00:07:00] got to get out, get another job. I’ve got to move my family, all this other stuff. So, but I didn’t really have any injuries. I was proud of my service and I knew I was staying in the reserves so I could always catch up with that stuff later. When I got injured overseas, it’s funny because you spend a lot of your time, and you know this, you deployed as well, you know, getting your living will ready, getting your, your, uh, regular will ready, making sure that if anything, if the worst happens to you, you know, all that’s done, but we don’t really think about the in between, right? Like what happens if you come back and now you’re no longer a whole man, a whole woman, you’re, you’re, okay. You’ve got stuff missing and you’re not going to be able to go back. The mentality I had then was, Hey, we’re going to Iraq. It looks like this is going to go on for a while. We’ll come back and we’ll go again. Right. When it comes out, I remember laying. In that Blackhawk helicopter, after, uh, the bombing off, there was a small ambush that, that [00:08:00] happened in the coordinated attack. We did a good job of getting the QRF there and all that stuff, and I got trucked out. We couldn’t land Blackhawks because it was a hot LZ. We didn’t want to risk the 15 million helicopters for just a 60, 000 infantry sergeant, right? So, um, get trucked out to Mamma Dia. I remember they stabilized me there, and I remember I got loaded in, so I had three shards of glass in my left eye. Um, thankfully I was able to keep my eye. I had a contact in and it kept it from it from bursting is what the doctors told me. And I remember laying with one eye patched and everything else patched and IVs running in me. Couldn’t really hear because of how this 3D155 artillery shells that went off right at my door. But it was a clear night and the moon was out and I remember just watching it through the rotors. Realizing my career is [00:09:00] over. Realizing that, you know, all this nine years of training to get to game day, if you will, you know, and it’s over in three months and we did a lot. But to me, what that’s, what’s driven my PTSD is I don’t feel adequate because I was hurt. That’s what’s driven me to eventually I left Kraft Foods, uh, became Dane County’s veteran service officer, became an accredited veteran service officer, got my master’s, uh, in social work with emphasis on military life, uh, to really try to figure out not only how to get well with myself, with that feeling of inadequacy, that, that hole that was in me, but to help other veterans as I kept hearing the same type of story, uh, whether they never got deployed, And they felt guilty about that. Or if they were deployed and they lost people or something, there was always something that we felt like we could have did better and I knew it wasn’t [00:10:00] healthy and, and going through that depression and utilizing other systems as well to help me bring through it. I felt like we needed to really do something else. I left being a veteran service officer and came on to be, uh, working for the Semper Fi Fund, the veteran, the veteran lead, and really trying to work with veterans in that way. And so it’s just been. Like, it’s hard to put it into words. Right? And, but I think we all, like, if we’ve all served, we all have that inkling that we could have done this differently or could have been different. You know, do you experience that as well? Or, I mean, most veterans, they have that same type of feeling, you know, I Scott DeLuzio: just, I want to go back to something that you were saying about kind of that feeling of inadequacy. And I think that’s kind of like what you’re, you’re getting at. And like, um, you know, to me, I’ve talked to, you know, Hundreds of veterans sort of doing this show. Um, and I talked to people who have served during peacetime, they never [00:11:00] deployed, they never, or even they served during, you know, uh, the last, you know, 20 some odd years, uh, you know, when, when we were deploying and they just didn’t deploy. Um, and. The thing that I say to every single one of them, doesn’t matter if you deployed or not, doesn’t matter if you were, uh, you know, a cook or in finance or a mechanic or, uh, infantry soldier, or, you know, what, it doesn’t matter what it was that you, you did in the military. You did what your country asked you to do. That’s right. Period. And whether you deployed or not. You served and there was maybe a need for you here at home doing something, you know, and, um, even if that something was just being the deterrent at home, you know, having the troops here at home is a deterrent, you know, if all of our troops were overseas fighting someplace else, who’s, who’s watching the hen house, you know, that that’s, that’s, Something that’s valuable too. So, um, to every one of them, including [00:12:00] yourself, who, you know, you had done more than, um, than, than you probably should have, and probably that you give yourself credit for, um, like you couldn’t have controlled what happened to you. I mean, that, that was, that was just, you know, the, the bad guys getting, getting a lucky shot in. Yeah. Um, you know, and, and, um, yeah, so maybe you were there for three months. All right. Well, you still served for three months there. Um, and you, you provided the, uh, the, the war fighting capabilities that we did. And, and so, yeah, maybe it was cut short, but, but so what you still did BJ Ganem: it. Yeah. And I get the rationality behind it. You know, it’s mostly speaking to those things that especially a lot of us veterans have a hard time with the emotions, right? Yeah. And again, if you’re not logical, you’ve got it, you know? So, um, it took me a while and quite honestly, I’m still on that journey, right? Like the reason I [00:13:00] founded Sierra Delta was. I realized how important Dozer was, this dog, this old English Bulldog, there he is, he died in 2018. But, uh, you know, how important he was for me to see the purpose that my life had, even if it was just to take care of that scruff old Bulldog, right? And, and when I started looking at all the different things that we were trying to do for vets to help, it felt like, Everybody was trying to do it for us, and we started to be more of a charity case than actual member of our society, a contributing member of our society, and what I realized is that feeling, that hole in me kept getting bigger the more things that I did, uh, the more, like, programs I took part in, especially to be a VA, it wasn’t scratching that itch, and that itch was, we were leaders. We were like, I don’t think people really understand the military, [00:14:00] especially in the Marine Corps. It’s all driven on small unit leadership. It’s the NCO, the platoon sergeant, like I was that, you know, no other job I’ve had since gives you that same type of responsibility, that same type. And that is very empowering. And when it’s taken away, it’s hard to make right with it, especially when everybody wants to give you something because of what you did. When you looked at what I did, was my job. It’s what the man or the, I only served in the infantry with men. So it’s always the man to the left and the right of me, right? I know women do serve as well. Um, but that’s, that’s where that, the incongruency was with returning and trying to get right. with all these psychologists and all these other like prescribed programs that really wasn’t scratching the edge. And that’s what I was hearing from over 20, 000 veterans I worked with as a veteran service officers or Semper Fi fund or group sessions like.[00:15:00] We all had the same incongruency with our society, right? Like we know the cost of what it is to have a free society. And especially like right now, what’s going on in our country, it’s everything I can do to kind of keep my anger down for how people are acting with all the freedom when we’ve been to other countries and seen what it’s like. When you don’t have freedom and this is what we’re doing with it. This is how we’re going to go about our daily business. And, and that was causing even more of the depression and even more of the anger issues that I was exuding in unhealthy ways. And a lot of veterans do. And, and again, it was that relationship with my dog and obviously I have a good family and friends. And, and I was more focused on trying to get there, but in that lowest point. It was the dog that helped me see through that depression. And when I look at our society, if there’s one thing that we all still [00:16:00] agree on, it’s that we all love dogs. If we look at it, 67 percent of American households have a dog in it. The other great, it’s not a great thing, but you know, in this country, we euthanize over 800, 000 healthy, trainable, and adoptable dogs every year. And so I look at, we have 18 million vets in the country. We’re killing 800, 000 dogs. Most people love dogs. It’s really easy to become a dog trainer. Veterans are already been instilled with how to be trainers, right? Of other humans, even humans that we don’t share the same culture with or the same language with. Why aren’t we empowering these men and women, no matter what era they served in? You know, to form a relationship with a dog that helps provide those healthy core values that then they can then build upon on top of that, and that’s where you get Sierra Delta. It stands for service and dogs. We’re [00:17:00] cultivating wellness through being, continuing being a service to others. And, and cultivating the love of a dog through healthy training and, and routines. That’s it. Scott DeLuzio: And I, and I think the biggest thing, the biggest piece to this whole issue that, that this country is facing with, uh, the veteran suicide, uh, epidemic, the 22 a day, whatever numbers you want to throw at it. I know those numbers fluctuate, but, um, It’s that sense of purpose. I think that’s my, my opinion is, is having a sense of purpose. Um, and, and when you have that, and you’re serving other people who, uh, let’s say other veterans, right? Those are people who, um, you can relate to, you know, what they’re, they’re kind of going through. To me, that’s just like the peak of service to, um, to other people. And I think that’s exactly what you’re doing. And, and it’s, uh, you know, a great mission to have. Um, I do want to talk a little bit more about [00:18:00] your, uh, your mission, what you’re doing here at, at Sierra Delta in just a minute, we’re going to cut to a quick commercial break though. So stay tuned. Hey everybody, welcome back to Drive On. Um, I’m here with, um, the CEO of Sierra Delta, BJ Ganem, and he was talking about, uh, prior to the break, he’s talking about kind of his background and, um, where he, um, transitioned out of the military and I kind of struggled a little bit with that transition. Um, so BJ, you mentioned earlier, you, you, uh, got your master’s in social work with an emphasis on military life. Um, how did that education and that, that background training influence what you’re doing now, uh, helping veterans, uh, with Sierra Delta? BJ Ganem: Yeah. So when I was injured. And we spent about, I think it was 9, 10 months at Walter Reed recovering, getting a prosthetic and all that stuff. Um, I left there with a 50 percent rating. And it didn’t make sense to me, right? 40 percent for losing a [00:19:00] leg below the knee. I mean, it’s kind of funny that it’s, uh, if you lose a leg above the knee, it’s 60 percent rating. But if you contract genital herpes, it’s also a 60 percent rating. If you have sleep apnea, it’s a 50 percent rating. Like, it’s… Nonsense, right? So it was, I went back to work for Kraft and they were great and back to work, but my heart just wasn’t in it. It just didn’t feel right. And seeing what I saw at the, at the hospitals, it’s just so many men and women that just, there was a lot of people that came to support us and there was a lot of good medical care being, being given, but as soon as they were done with us, they were done with us. And we’d go to the VA and the VA is doing the best it can with what it set up, but it wasn’t feeling right to me. You know, I knew everybody were grateful for what we did. But it really felt like we had an uphill battle with these life changing injuries, whether they’re visible or invisible. And it seemed like all the carrots [00:20:00] were put in front of getting worse. That way you got more money from the VA. Oh, you got more help from the other organizations versus getting better. And it didn’t sit right with me. And I was no longer interested in selling cookies and crackers and, and cheese. I wanted to figure this out. And I was volunteering. I was on the national campaign team for Wounded Warrior Project. Earlier on, I was doing a lot of work with Semper Fi Fund, a lot of work with local veteran services like BFWs and American Legions and really thought I wanted to really explore doing this. So that’s when. I stopped, I was almost done with a business degree and I switched to go ahead and get, um, um, undergraduate, a bachelor’s of science in, uh, psychology and then went on and got my master’s in social work with emphasis on military life because I thought I could find some of these answers in, in academia. And I did, I saw a lot of good. ways to approach what we were trying to solve through the social [00:21:00] work mentality, which is getting out in the communities and meeting the people that are suffering where they’re at and figure out how to make them, um, their own advocate, right? Really the whole adage of don’t give a person a fish, teach them how to fish. Right. And I really liked that about social work and did a lot with interns and saw like as an intern, I saw a bunch of different ways we could be doing this different versus the way we were trying to do it. based on the VA model and based on the traditional, uh, I guess, non profit, um, services. So after that, I went to work full time for, as a veteran service officer, and it was good to help people with their claims and whatnot, but all the veterans were fixated on the claim. Because there’s such a big difference between hitting 100%, where now your family gets health care, most of the time your property taxes are reimbursed, Uh, your family can go to [00:22:00] school with dependence education assistance. None of that kicks in until you get to a hundred percent at 90%. You just get healthcare for yourself and a stipend. So I saw that the disability parameters that we had set up through the VA were actually exasperating most of the issues. They were making people worse because they do need healthcare for their family. They do need, you know, that those other benefits to help overcome these, these other things. And it just was. Not done in a way that I thought made sense. And working in the government system, I knew there was no way to change it. And I still don’t believe there’s any way to change it other than setting the whole thing on fire and redoing it. So, luckily enough, um, I had a lot of connections. Uh, President Bush painted me in the Portraits of Courage. I was able to participate in a lot of Team 43 mentorships. Um, I was working with another non profit called Nantucket’s Holidays for [00:23:00] Heroes. It was founded by Tom McCann who was in the pet industry. There I also met Bill Bishop and his family who founded Blue Buffalo. Uh, Pet Food Company is the number one pet food company in the world, and we were bringing veterans to Nantucket Island for a vacation of sorts, and a lot of them had dogs, and Bill Bishop and Tom McCann really pointed me into the direction of like, how can we do more with dogs? Uh, I remember telling President Bush about it, and he told me, my nickname from President Bush is Belushi. I used to have… Longer, crazier hair. And, um, be a bit of a character, I guess. And, um, he told me, he’s like, Belushi, I can give 5 million to any of these dog veteran organizations, and it won’t move the needle at all. And in our first year in 2017 of our existence, we had a partnership with Blue Buffalo and PetSmart where we raised a million and a half dollars in five weeks. And we gave it all the way to the top veteran service dog [00:24:00] organizations, unrestricted. And what we saw was President Bush was right. Not a single one did even one more dog the next year. And when you add up all these organizations, it’s only a thousand that’s a year getting help. There’s 18 million, that’s just over 18 million that’s in this country. And 150, 000 of them are, are estimated to need a medical assistance service dogs. That means in America, the richest country in the world that truly loves their veterans. We’re on pace to solve that issue in 150 years. That, to me, doesn’t make any sense. No, it doesn’t. Scott DeLuzio: So, so Sierra Delta now is, is, is, I’m assuming, looking to change all of this, right? BJ Ganem: Yes, absolutely. We are redefining the future for both veterans and dogs. And one of the things that I saw in the model, I toured all these facilities and I saw all their processes. The biggest ones out there are only doing 50 dogs a year, 80 [00:25:00] dogs a year at most. Um, and it’s because we’re focused on trying to give everybody a Lamborghini when most of us just need an F 150, you know, so, um, really wanted to focus on why aren’t we including the veteran in this two year process to create these service dogs, how come the veterans only get. Three days to a week at the end and a picture taken so they can fundraise and then they go back to everybody else playing with the dog and training the dog except for us, the veterans, the ones that have been trained to actually lead teams and provide training and, and, and have this discipline and have this improvise, adapt, and overcome type of mentality. Why aren’t we including us? Why are we sit on the sidelines? Why everybody else who wants to help us does all the work with the dog that didn’t hand this, this ready made dog. How’s that making us any better? Right. And so I wanted to include it to where most of us, and it also dropped the cost. The average cost for a service [00:26:00] dog in that model is 35, 000. And it’s because they send the dog to everybody else, to families. to college dorms, to prisons, all these other people are doing the training except for the veterans. And I felt that that was somebody that didn’t really understand veterans, even at our worst, even in the most depression, even, you know, missing limbs, we can still be of value. And so we created the LifeBuddy program. And what the LifeBuddy program does at Sierra Delta is it allows the veterans to, we’ve worked with over 2, 500 veterans since 2017, 68 percent of them already had a dog in the house. So we can now pay trainers directly after we educate the veterans and they decide what type of dog they want in their life to meet their own individual needs and lifestyle. I mean, one of the things that I hope that we can have a conversation with like Bass Pro Shop, or Cabela’s, or Walmart is about What about sport dogs? Like, [00:27:00] why does every dog that has to help a veteran have to be like the Humane Society’s commercial with Sarah McLachlan singing in the background? Like, you know what a hunting dog is? The other 350 days it’s not hunting? Practically a service dog. There’s three, there’s three tests that matter in the dog world. Canine Good Citizen, Urban Canine Good Citizen, and Community Canine Good Citizen. The Community Canine Good Citizen test is the service dog test. If we can no longer ask about people’s disabilities due to HIPAA, then let’s just focus on the training. If the veteran and the dog pass the community canine good citizen test yearly, that is a service dog. And if that veteran wants to take that dog everywhere they want to go, they’ve passed the test. We have it on video. We have an approved trainer that signed off on it. They no longer have to wait in line. But the good thing is, is that 99 percent of us do not need [00:28:00] a dog to go everywhere with us. We just need a good dog in our life. So like this guy that’s behind me, his name is Loki. Loki, say hi to everybody. There you go, buddy. He was set to be killed cause he had reactive. He was abused for the first year of his life. Uh, starved to 40 pounds underweight and a ball of anxiety, but he spoke to me. And me and him have worked together for three years in the LifeBuddy program and he’s much better and he’s everything I need. Doe, he doesn’t go everywhere with me. He makes me feel better when I’m traveling because he’s home with my family. And that’s what I need. I barely have enough skillset that keeps up with myself, much less a dog, you know, and a lot of the veterans that isn’t, this isn’t talked about a lot, but it caught a lot of times service dogs cause more anxiety for veterans when they go out in public, because the rest of the American population gets all dumb and stupid when they see a dog and they go up and pet it and distracted or try to feed it. And that’s, [00:29:00] that makes it harder for these men and women, you know, the, the percentages are basically about 1 percent need a medical assistant trained service dog. About 3 percent could benefit from it. The other 97 percent of us Just need a good truck dog. Just need that good dog that’s there, that heals, that, you know, walks good on the leash. And the great thing is the majority of our society is already dog friendly. Do you understand? We’re gonna get more dog friendly because Last year alone, the first time ever, the pet industry went over a hundred billion dollars annually, showing no sign of slowing down. So Walmart, Home Depot, all these places, they already advertise that dogs are welcome so long as they’re leashed, well behaved, and well groomed, and any dog can be asked to leave. So we already have dog friendly public places. Many cities are already very dog friendly. What we need to do is increase the amount of knowledge. And, [00:30:00] and, and show people that it’s not who you take your dog to, to get it trained. It’s how are you training? What are the healthy training rituals and routines that you’re doing with your dog that not only improves their behavior, but improves your life overall? Scott DeLuzio: That’s right. And it’s not always the, uh, I mean, obviously the dog needs some sort of training. Uh, you know, but. But a lot of times we’re training the individual, the handlers of the dogs as well. And that’s, that’s a very key component to it. I do want to talk more about some of the programs that you guys offer at Sierra Delta in just a minute. We’re going to cut to another quick commercial break here though, so stay tuned. Hey everybody, welcome back to Drive On. I have BJ Ganem here, who is the founder of Sierra Delta. And we’re talking about kind of the background, where it came from, the idea behind it, and the needs that are out there for many veterans. Um, but BJ, I’d love to talk to you a little bit more about some of the programs that Sierra Delta offers. You briefly [00:31:00] mentioned some earlier, uh, in the last segment, but, um, Let’s talk about the, the LifeBuddy program. Um, it basically assisting veterans in getting and training service dogs, right. And to meet their own specific needs. Oh, dogs in BJ Ganem: general. Okay. Dogs in general. Like, again, what we’re trying to really showcase is that when we look at the raw data, 0. 07 percent of the veterans actually need a service dog if we’re going through EDA compliance, right. But what we understand is that every dog owner believes that their dog is providing a service to them. So we’re recognizing and that that terminology that we’re using, no matter how much the traditional service dog people want to beat it into somebody else, it’s a free country. Right? And we know that our dogs are important in our lives. So we recognize that. Especially for our veterans who can kind of get confused at a service. Dog might [00:32:00] mean that it’s a dog for somebody that served. Right? You know, with life. Right? And in the LifeBuddy program, the veteran has earned this help by simply raising their hand and volunteering to be the ones on the front lines that is protecting our way of life. Okay, so this is a true thank you for your service, and we’re asking the rest of Americans, to include veterans, to chip in so that we can help guide these men and women to creating a life buddy team within their, within their life and directed around their individual needs and their lifestyle, whether that means that they need a medical assistance or not. So the three levels that we work with veterans on is basic, advanced, medical. Now a veteran can do all three. Because you can’t have a medical assistant service dog without doing the basic training first. No different can you have a [00:33:00] Marine, a Sailor, a Soldier, an Airman. What is the Space Force people called? Are they… I think Scott DeLuzio: they’re Guardians. Alright, you can’t have a Guardian. You know, weird, I don’t know, whatever, sure. Like, BJ Ganem: I don’t mean to be the old curmudgeon, but I don’t really get Space Force yet, but I’m happy it’s here. Uh, and the Coasties, right? So, you can’t become any of those without going to basic training first. Right. So what we’re trying to show veterans is that, Hey, let’s start with your dog that you have. Or if you’re going to adopt a dog or buy a dog, whatever you want to do, or someone’s going to give you a dog here, you have all the things that you need. There’s a lot of things that you can do, especially with a puppy that you don’t need to send it off to a trainer. You just need to do it. No different than what you did in the military. You understood. Your TTPs, what you had to do in order to be successful to get to the next rank, or to get to the next level, or to get to the next MOS. So we set it up just like that, [00:34:00] and again, 99 percent of us have the capacity to do this. If we make time for it and if we actually want to, the 1 percent that is medically incapable of doing it, we will help them get to the right facilities and try to subvert these lines because there’s plenty of other people that can produce service dogs outside of the ADI accredited organizations. And so it’s really a common sense approach to it, right? And utilizing the strength based perspective. We understand that some of us have. Issues that we need to work on, but we also have a ton of strengths in the military community. So let’s start there. What do we have to work with? And we start by asking the veterans, do you already have a dog? And one of the biggest questions we ask when people are like, well, I need a service dog. We ask them, when you go on vacation with your spouse or your family, is this dog coming with you or is it staying home with a friend or in a kennel? The [00:35:00] majority of time they’re like, no, we’re not bringing our dogs. You don’t need a service dog, right? You don’t need a medical assistant service dog. Again, what we recognize is that PTSD comes in waves, right? There’s different things. A lot of times it smells, right? You smell something, you get blasted back, and, and your heart rate picks up. So, most dogs can pick up on our emotions. They pick up on each other’s emotions, right? But by training them to it, rewarding them when they do the right things, like if you, if you have a dog, one of your, you have two dogs, you said, if you pretend to cry, I guarantee you those dogs are going to come up to you and try to figure out what’s wrong. Scott DeLuzio: Right. You’re right. You know, just an example last night, my wife stepped on something and, uh, cut her foot. Uh, and she was sitting on the floor trying to, you know, get a bandaid on, clean it out, all that kind of stuff. And the dogs were, they weren’t right next to her when it happened, but they came to her and they were like, okay, mom’s down. What’s going on? Let’s figure [00:36:00] this BJ Ganem: out. Right. And so again, what a trainer would do or a veteran that is understands what they want to do is, yeah. They didn’t reward the dogs for doing that. Now they know that that’s part of your job, right? Food is a paycheck. So if you have trouble with your dog, it’s probably because you’re leaving the food down there, getting the food, no matter what they do, they don’t really care, right? But if you’ve written performance reviews and you make like Loki, we go for a walk first. We do 10 to 15 minutes of sitting, him staying in place. Then he gets, he gets treats done and then he gets his food, right? He doesn’t get anything unless he does something. Now that’s not to be mean. We want to, we might get games of it. And then again, he understands my needs better because of how I’m rewarding him. I understand my needs better because I’m focused on how to explain it to my dog. And then now when I’m explaining it to other people, I can just refer it back to like, Oh, here’s how it helps me. Like when I [00:37:00] watch the news, all this ridiculousness. With DC and our politicians. And when I go to the VA and I come back, just completely frustrated, I can go to the woods with my dog and hit a trail. And I put him on this command that I taught him called with me. And he knows that he can stay in a six to eight foot radius of me. You know what that feels like? It feels like being on patrol. And it just helps you get back into that scent. So, I mean, there’s dock diving, there’s scent detection where you’re hunting, you know, shed antlers, or you’re hunting mushrooms, or, you know, I always thought about, like, what if, we have a great partnership with the VFW right now, and we’re testing it out in the state of Wisconsin, but between the VFW and the American Legions, there’s 18, 000 underutilized clubhouses in both rural and urban areas. You know, there’s organizations, they, they raised 19 million in nine months. They built a great facility, but they only produce 40 [00:38:00] dogs a year. If Sierra Delta had 19 million to put into training into the veterans community, we’re talking 10 to 20, 000 veterans getting help right away versus just 40. Like, there’s so many ways we can do this better, especially if we include the most integral part of this whole thing, the veterans, right? I mean, you started your own podcast. You didn’t really know. No one told you how to do it. You figured it out. Right? Right. I’m not telling the veterans they have to figure it out. What we’re telling them is, is you’re the tip of the spear and we’re your support element. We need you to do 80 percent of the work and we’re going to provide that 20 percent to come into you. And, and, and to bring behavioralists and to bring dog trainers and to create these events where you can come to a dog park with other veterans, work on socializing your dogs and socializing yourselves, right? Like we have the infrastructure gives us everything we need to [00:39:00] get this done. What we need is a coordinated. Um, organization to oversee it all, and that’s what Sierra Delta is. We are contracting with professional trainers. Trainers can join our network for free, and they get to use the whole digital community as well, to communicate directly with the veterans that they’re training with. And then our trainers are there to oversee. We make the trainers send us a video of the accomplishing the task that we want the veterans to have. Again, nightmare, waking you up from nightmares. That’s a great thing to teach a dog, but why does it have to be an ADA service dog? Like, are you sleeping on the job? Do you need to take that dog? You know, like, where’s the… You don’t Scott DeLuzio: need that in the grocery store. BJ Ganem: Yes, where’s the common sense in this stuff? Like, let’s help more people and more dogs by creating a reasonable and sustainable program, which is what LifeBuddy is. Right? And what we, what we are trying to tell the rest of America [00:40:00] is that civilians can join and be a part of the same digital community and be on the know when we’re having different events, simply by giving either 20 a month or 200 a year. Right? That way, for every 5, 000 people that give us 200 a year, that’s a million dollars we can put towards training veterans and their dogs. Right? And then you can see your money at work by being in the community. If you don’t want to, great. But there’s a better way of doing this and that’s what LifeBuddy does. We really focus on what is the particular training in the type of dog. I mean some of these organizations are charging donors 15, 000 to name the dog that’s going to go to the veteran. To me, I think that that is wrong. I think a veteran that’s going to have this dog in their life should be the ones naming their dogs. Should be the ones that’s like if you went to a cancer hospital with your child They’re like, yeah, we’ll help your child, but we get to name them because we have to go ask for [00:41:00] permission Like this is ridiculous, you know, like exactly what broken we might be dinged. We might be dented You know, we might be a little off our rocker, which is why we joined in the first place. Right. But we’re not invalid. We’re not incapable of doing this stuff. And by vacating that, that stuff to us is actually exasperating the PTSD. And in my opinion, and what I think is a professional opinion is I’ve dedicated my life for the past 15 years to really understand this issue through veterans and academia and all these other things is that how we are. enabling PTSD by giving them trips and giving them all this stuff based on them not holding down a job and, and, and not, and, and having out, outlashes and, and not being able to stay in school and drinking too much and all this stuff is exasperating. Let’s reward them for doing things the right way for helping put it back together and that will lead into life force Which is our service [00:42:00] stuff that we can talk about probably after the break because I think I went too long on life buddy Scott DeLuzio: That’s okay. So yeah, I mean the the I guess the core of CR Delta and what you guys are doing is, you know, getting the getting the dogs to the veterans empowering them to kind of take charge of their lives, being able to get back on track. And, and like you said, having that coping mechanism in their, their back pocket, um, knowing that the dog is there when you had a bad day and you come home, um, you know, maybe, like you said, maybe you don’t need the dog at work. To, like you said, wake up from nightmares, but you know that the dog’s there and it’s just that peace of mind, knowing that that’s there. And then having a community of like minded people who are there to work together and, and help each other through maybe different things that they might be going through is. Is key too, because I know one of the other things I mentioned [00:43:00] earlier, you know, having a sense of purpose is a big motivated or a big, big, uh, factor there. And if you have that, that community there, and you know that those people might need your help at some point, you know, that’s a factor. It’s like, Hey, I’m not gonna let these people down. I don’t want to let the people down that I served with the guy to my left or right. Like I didn’t want to let those people down. I need to be a part of this community and I’m going to continue to work to make sure I don’t let those people down. Um, and that’s, to me, that’s a, just a big, um, a big benefit to, you know, what you’re doing there. So, uh, we’re going to take a quick break here and, uh, when we get back, we’ll, uh, talk a little bit more about Sierra Delta and, and, uh, where people can go to find out more information about it. So stay tuned. BJ, um, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today, finding out more about Sierra Delta. Um, I know there’s probably some people out there in the audience who want to, uh, get in touch with you guys, find out more about what Sierra Delta does, whether it’s to make a donation [00:44:00] or to get involved in the community, um, or, or anything else, get, getting involved with the dogs. Um, where can people go to get in touch with you guys and everything that you do? BJ Ganem: The easiest thing is go to our website, Sierradelta. com. Right there you can join the community, whether you’re a veteran or a civilian, and you can learn all about it. You can also follow us especially on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. Uh, we do have Twitter. We’re just not as active on it. We only have eight employees and we have a bunch of contractors, but we are, we’re more focused on trying to get the dog training done and the LifeBuddy program and then LifeForce is just how we can continue to be of service to each other. So great example is this past. Monday was September 11th. Uh, we partnered with Carry the Load and Sierra Delta led a group of veterans and, um, supporters at Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee. And we washed headstones for two, three hours, an old fashioned working party. So there’s other things like [00:45:00] that, that we want veterans to start serving, giving of themselves. In a way that kind of shows that we are still a, a, an important part of this fabric, even though our uniform’s off and we really wanna build a bridge to our civilian counterparts to let them know that you don’t need to put a uniform on and grab a weapon to serve your country. We can all work together to make it better. It doesn’t really matter what the government does, they can’t fix our problems. We need to do it. And that’s what it’s about. So yeah, sierra delta.com is the best place and join up and do it and just. Push this philosophy out there that dogs make life better and, and service to others makes our life better. Scott DeLuzio: It does. And I couldn’t agree more with everything that you’re saying there. Um, and one of the things that, uh, you know, it really is compelling about Sierra Delta is how you bring the two of those together. The, the dogs and the, the service, uh, that community, uh, aspect of things and bringing those both together. Um, and I think [00:46:00] that’s, that’s a great thing. Definitely go check that out. We’ll have links to it. All in the show notes, uh, all the social media and the website and everything. So for the audience who wants to check it out, definitely check out those show notes. Um, I’ve been doing this, uh, segment, one of my favorite segments, I think now of, of this show, um, just a little transition to kind of wrap the show up. It’s called is it service connected and for the audience who maybe not Familiar with it. It’s basically like if we did America’s Funniest Home Videos, uh, basically the military edition, uh, then we try to predict whether or not, uh, whatever event took place in the video would qualify for VA disability, somewhere down the line, um, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t either way. We’re going to get a laugh out of it. So, um, so if you can, uh, um, check this video out here, um, uh, BJ, I think it should be shown up on your end as well. We have this video here. Um, This one here, just for the audio podcast listeners, looks like a, um, looks like we got a, we got a dude [00:47:00] on, looks like he’s trying to cross like a little stream or a river, um, on. A pipe. And I can only imagine this is just not going to end well. It’s just going to be a bad situation. BJ Ganem: Al in Iraq, actually, uh, with a little pipe on the cross. It he’s got his forward going across his chest with a little day pack on his back. And he’s going to try to walk that tightrope. So Scott DeLuzio: here we go. Yeah. That, that, I mean, that’s, that is, you, you described it, right? It’s a tightrope basically at this point. So let’s see what this ends up. So he’s doing so pretty good so far, uh, but he’s getting to kind of a wet spot, probably trying to avoid that. Oh, And, ooh, and he’s in the drink. He is in the drink. A little slow motion. BJ Ganem: A little slow motion. He kept good muzzle awareness, though. I give him credit for that. He did. Oh, no, he’s still good. Scott DeLuzio: He’s still [00:48:00] BJ Ganem: good. Did not flag Scott DeLuzio: anybody. That’s right. I didn’t even notice that. Yeah. Good work. BJ Ganem: Yeah. And he’s laughing. It looks like, yep, that’s gross. I guess he’s okay. He looks okay. Scott DeLuzio: He looks all right. You know what? I think I thought at first when he went down, um, I thought he was going to probably be singing soprano, um, as he went down when he, when he hit that, but he got up like a trooper and, and he seemed like he’s okay, probably his ego’s bruised, but I don’t think there’s any, uh, disability for that. You know BJ Ganem: what? I don’t know. We don’t know what’s in that water. Uh, we just had to cut back that past. Um, you know, look out Hunter 7, they do a great job with, with cancers and whatnot. I mean, as we know from Afghanistan and Iraq, that there’s a lot of chemicals, they’re not as environmentally conscious as we are in America. So there could be a lot of chemicals in there. I would say. That’s service connected and I would definitely [00:49:00] tell that all the veterans to go see your local veteran service officer and look into these type things. I know I just had cancer in 2018, lymphoma. I was able to get through it. The VA did take good care of me, though it was contracted out to UW Health Care, which was really good. But, um, You know, these are, these are some other things, you know, it’s not just, uh, like getting your leg blown off with the bomb. There’s these chemicals and, and, and toxins that we’re exposed to, um, throughout our military service that could cause these issues. So definitely for me, service connected. But I know the type that I want all the veterans to go into the government system and steal it all back. They stole it from us, steal it back, and put it to good use. Scott DeLuzio: That’s right. Well, that’s a, that’s actually a good point of view that you had on that. Because I was just looking at it as if it’s just, you know, a regular clean water going through there. But who knows what’s in there? There could be all sorts of crap in there that, that’s, um, you know, chemicals and, uh, biological, whatever. You never know what, yeah, who [00:50:00] knows what that is. So, um. So, yeah, that’s a good perspective. So, um, we’ll go with, I think we’ll go with, uh, possibly service connected with that. It may make it declined or BJ Ganem: whatever, but, um, I mean, in order to get service connected, you gotta have a diagnosis, and then it has to be as least likely as not that it’s due to military service or exasperated by military service. Scott DeLuzio: And he has video evidence to prove it, so I think he might be on his way. He could BJ Ganem: be, if he’s got some sort of cancer or some other kind of disease that you can get from him. I mean, hey, you can get 60 percent for genital herpes. Maybe he caught herpes in that water. He probably Scott DeLuzio: did in that water. Yeah, after looking at it. All right. Thank you again so much, BJ. Hey, thank you for sharing BJ Ganem: again. Follow us on sierradelta. com. If you’re a veteran, join. We need all the veterans. We’re not needs based or disability. Please, the more veterans we join, the more people will be willing to help. So let’s get together and let’s at least have some fun with some dogs and provide service to others.[00:51:00] More shenanigans like this. Good job on that. I love that segment. That’s amazing. Scott DeLuzio: Awesome. Thanks so much.

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