Meet Hometown Hero Mike Arena

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By Lori Smith

Evan Williams Bourbon and its American-Made Heroes Foundation selected the Founder of Healing Paws for Warriors, Master Sgt., U.S. Air Force (Ret), Mike Arena, as one of its “American-Made Heroes.”

Recently honored at the Step One Fest, Maureen Bierman, Director of Marketing, Step One Automotive Group, said, “We have worked with Mike Arena in the past and know how dedicated he is to helping his fellow veterans. We are so excited to host this special ceremony at our fifth anniversary celebration.”

The American-Made Heroes Foundation salutes U.S. military veterans who dedicate their lives to helping others, especially fellow service members. Evan Williams provides a platform for sharing their stories, raising awareness for charitable causes and supporting non-profit organizations that serve the veteran community.

And no wonder they chose Mike. He is a co-founder and the Executive Director of Healing Paws for Warriors (HP4Ws), a local, non-profit organization providing executive management and service dogs at no cost to combat-injured veterans.

According to a study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 veterans and active duty members take their own lives each day. Burdened with a stigma associated with mental health issues and the “shame” surrounding PTSD, TBI and MST, they sometimes resort to suicide as an option to relieve their suffering.

​Healing Paws for Warriors is designed to provide our heroes the tools to live and improve their symptoms as they struggle with their conditions. “We want to increase their self-esteem, allow them to lead a more productive life, and help alleviate some of their symptoms,” says the organization’s website. “By training rescue or shelter dogs, we allow the veteran to receive the dog at no cost. But more importantly, we’ve potentially saved two lives in the process.​”

Mike could have been one of those statistics. After having served more than 23 years as an operational medic in the U.S. Air Force, he found himself in the same situation. After completing numerous deployments throughout the world, he was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and was medically retired.

But there was hope. After his diagnoses and subsequent retirement, he heard of a program that paired service dogs with veterans, and he pursued it as his path for healing. He joined the program and also found his K9 partner, Orion. Shortly after graduating, he regained his smile. He possessed a new mind-set, able to put aside past mental and physical challenges with his injuries. This was the catalyst for founding Healing Paws for Warriors.

Mike and others in the community jointly founded the local non-profit to help our local veterans who battle with their invisible wounds of war – PTSD, TBI and Military Sexual Trauma (MST). He and the HP4Ws team are passionate about providing hope and healing to veterans as they partner with rescue dogs to become a handler/K9 team. Through the program, military heroes are able to transition to civilian life with self-assurance and determination.

Healing Paws for Warriors trains veterans and dogs to be capable handler teams at no cost to the veterans: enabling struggling military heroes to transition to civilian life with self-assurance and determination.

Do you know someone who needs this same hope? Visit www.healingpawsforwarriors.org for more information.