Irwin Stovroff, Vets Helping Heroes
An Extraordinary Life, Gone to the Dogs
Sunday: 4:00 PM – March 6, 2016, Cultural Arts Center
Since 2006, Vets Helping Heroes (VHH) has been raising funds to sponsor the training of assistance dogs for disabled U.S. veterans and active duty military personnel. Founded by Irwin Stovroff (http://www.merkki.com/stovroffirwin.htm), a highly decorated WWII veteran and ex-POW who spent 13 months in a Nazi POW camp, VHH has built a national network to ensure that veterans and active duty military with different types of disabilities can acquire the right kind of assistance dog from reputable training facilities with minimum travel. Assistance dogs truly do amazing things: They prevent suicides, restore families and allow their recipients to become functioning members of society, living once again with independence and dignity. The need is real, as U.S. veterans are committing suicide at the frightening rate of 22 per day. Acquisition and training of these highly specialized dogs can cost upwards of $30,000 per dog. Since its inception, VHH has raised nearly $5 million and provided approximately 150 service dogs to vets and their families.
Irwin Stovroff was shot down over France in August 1944 on his 35th mission as a Bombardier with the 44th Bomb Group, a mission that was supposed to have been his final one during the war. Irwin discarded his dog tags before his capture by the Nazis to hide the fact that he was Jewish. Though he thought all was lost when a Nazi interrogator recognized him, it turned out that Irwin had been the newspaper boy for the Nazi officer’s family back in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. The interrogator who had come to Germany to be with his grandmother and stayed to fight for the Nazis, told Irwin that he wanted to help him and put a “?” on Irwin’s records next to religion, effectively saving his life. Yes, this is a true story.
After his incredible wartime experiences, Irwin finished his education, married, started a family and had a successful career in the furniture industry. When he retired in 1997 at the age of 75, he began volunteering at the local VA Medical Center in South Florida helping to get veterans the benefits to which they were entitled. After discovering that the VA did not receive government funding to provide service dogs of any kind and that all dogs were funded by private donations, Irwin established VHH in 2006 (at the age of 84) with the single goal of financing the acquisition and training of service dogs for wounded vets and active duty military personnel who were desperately in need of them.
This link (http://www.vetshelpingheroes.org/the-gift-of-life-promo) contains a three-minute video that summarizes Irwin’s experiences and gives more background on VHH (there is also a full-length documentary available via this link that gets into significantly more detail about Irwin, VHH and the vets it serves). This link (http://www.vetshelpingheroes.org/media_and_press) contains various media involving Irwin and VHH, including coverage of Irwin’s receiving an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Florida Atlantic University earlier this year.