FORT LEE, N.J. --- Judy Isaacson Schaffer's dad never talked about fighting in World War II -- he landed on the second day of the Normandy invasion and was in the Battle of the Bulge -- but he was severely affected by it.
The Fort Lee resident said, had he talked about his experiences, she think he would have had a happier life.
It's why, when she met U.S. soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2009, she knew she had to do something to help.
The result: Heroes to Heroes Foundation, a privately-funded organization that provides a spiritual healing and peer support program for veterans who have attempted suicide. She founded the non-denominational 501(c)(3) organization in March, 2010 when she was still working in corporate America. (She's since left to work on Heroes to Heroes full-time.)
The program takes teams of veterans to Israel for a 10-day journey. While overseas, they experience holy sites, visit veteran's programs, plant trees, and do volunteer work.
So far, she's taken 113 veterans and said the results have been remarkable. "All 113 veterans are still in touch with their peers and report having a reconnection with their families, churches, etc," she told Daily Voice. "We expect to send 60 veterans on the journey in 2017."
The goal is to send 200 per year.
As for why Israel, she said it's the only place they can get reconnected to their Creator in a physical manner. "Many people need the physical connection in order to get to the spiritual," she said.
"We find that when we take them to the holy sites they are not embarrassed to feel. Also, Israel is very military friendly. Our veterans feel comfortable and safe in that environment. They open up."
The veterans in the program have been found mainly through other veterans. Isaacson Schaffer said she also hears from parents and family members who have seen the organization on TV -- they've been featured on NBC, FOX, and CNBC, among others -- or have read about them. And, they get recommendations from other veterans' organizations.
"Our participants come from all over the country. We triage to take those who need the program the most," she said.
Many of the 113 participants have had multiple suicide attempts prior to joining the program.
In the end, she said, "All are here to talk about it."
Go to www.heroestoheroes.org/ for more information.
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