LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Military veterans tormented by war are finding refuge in helping to heal exotic birds that have been orphaned.
The little known gem on the grounds of the Veterans Administration complex in West Los Angeles is called the Serenity Park Parrot Sanctuary, a rescue facility for orphaned exotic birds.
Matthew Simmons, the director of the Serenity Park Parrot Sanctuary, started out at the facility as just another veteran in need of some help.
Simmons served in the Navy during Operation Desert Storm and returned to civilian life.
But at Serenity Park, it’s the veterans who have also suffered trauma that nurse many sick or injured birds back to health.
The park offers a peaceful place for veterans to come and think while others, like Navy veteran Bob Correll, come to escape demons that have haunted them for years.
“I tend to let stress get the best of me, and I don’t treat people quite right when I do that,” Correll said.
But nothing softens him more than spending his morning in the company of the feathered Julius.
In fact, every veteran who gets cuddle-time with the birds contributes to their welfare and feeding.
Coast Guard veteran Lily Love is also a PTSD survivor who is now in charge of the Serenity Park kitchen.
At 6 each morning, Love starts to cook and explains that it’s a labor of love.
While Love didn’t divulge details of the flashbacks that sent her to a V.A. psychiatric ward five times, since starting at Serenity Park, she’s remained out of the hospital.
This work “takes me out of myself,” Love said.
Getting a sick bird healthy can often be challenging but it gave Simmons an invaluable experience.
“I saw them heal. I saw them forgive me for all those times that I help them down and did what was right,” he said.
Matt once believed he was broken for good but as his winged warriors got better so did he.
“If you’re not offered a ledge up, it’s a very deep pit, and there’s lots of guys down there,” Simmons said.
And for Correll, being at Serenity Park has indeed given him a ledge up.
In fact, it’s been his “salvation,” he said. “I think I’m a little kinder. A little gentler than I was before I got here.”
In return for his work gathering branches and dressing up cages, Jeffrey S., another veteran, has experienced an “unconditional type of love.”
“It changed my life just being here,” he said.
Serenity Park operates completely on donations and is open for public visits. To learn more about how to visit or to donate, click here.
This segment was produced by CBS2/KCAL9 Medical Producer Gerri Shaftel Constant.