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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Veterans Turn to Parrots for Healing

LOS ANGELES -- A dog may be a man's best friend. But for some traumatized war veterans, parrots are proving even more of a help.

Rescued and abused parrots are helping veterans turn their lives around in a unique program launched at a Los Angeles Veterans Affairs facility.

The parrots -- which sometimes pluck their own feathers when stressed out after years in cramped cages or being abandoned by owners -- are thriving, too, in what organizers say is an exercise in mutual healing.

"Both the veterans and the parrots have suffered some kind of traumatic stress. Both are learning to build compassion and empathy together," said Lorin Lindner, the psychologist behind the Serenity Park Sanctuary at the facility's headquarters in the Westwood section of Los Angeles.

After years working with homeless, drug and alcohol addicted ex-servicemen and women, Lindner took some of them on a trip to a parrot sanctuary in Southern California and noticed how well the former Vietnam and Gulf War veterans were responding to the wild birds.

The idea for the Los Angeles sanctuary was born, and 14 parrots now live there, fed and cared for every day by a small group of war veterans.

"I am one of those guys who could be on the streets or in prison if it wasn't for this," said Matthew Simmons, 33, who served in the 1991 Desert Storm offensive in the Persian Gulf

Simmons entered a downward spiral of nightmares, alcohol and prescription drug addiction that ended in a two-year prison term for assault before he was released and started work on the parrot program a few months ago.

Hanging upside down and squawking angrily at the strangers gathered outside her enclosure, a white cockatoo called Sammy fell silent after being coaxed down by Simmons.

"I was isolated and angry. Now everything has changed. The parrots were the catalyst. You have to be open and honest with them. Now I deal with people, too, in a much more open way," Simmons said.