A new 'leash' on life: Government program will train dogs for veterans with PTSD

As many as 20 veterans out of 100 from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have PTSD, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Afghanistan war vets share their anguish over rise of Taliban

AUG. 18, 202103:00

Aug. 22, 2021, 3:45 PM +03

By Patrick Martin

Bobbi keeps her soft brown eyes on Becca Stephens while patrolling the aisles of a grocery store, ever-vigilant of potential threats. She walks slightly behind, making sure no one can get the jump on the person she is there to protect.

Once the mission is over, Bobbi will head home, get a nice treat and play with her favorite toy, a bright orange traffic cone.

Bobbi is a service dog who has been by Stephens' side for the last three years. The golden Labrador is specially trained to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, like Stephens of Clearwater, Florida.

Stephens is a 36-year-old combat veteran who served in Basra, Iraq, from 2009 to 2010, working on radio equipment for her unit. She was diagnosed with PTSD in 2011.

“She just always has my back, and she knows” when Stephens needs reassurance, the veteran told NBC News.

Becca Stephens comforting — and being comforted by — her service dog, Bobbi.K9s for Warriors

This month, Congress passed a bipartisan bill — the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers, or PAWS, for Veterans Therapy Act — to help connect veterans with their own service dogs. The bill is now headed to the desk of dog-lover President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it.

At that point, the Department of Veterans Affairs would work with organizations like K9s for Warriors, a Florida nonprofit organization that provides service dogs to veterans, which is where Stephens trained with Bobbi. The five-year program would take effect Jan. 1, 2022, said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s for Warriors.

“We’re encouraged by the passage of this bill by both houses of Congress as an integral first step in the fight against veteran suicide,” Diamond said.

Of the more than 700 veterans who have been through the K9s for Warriors program, 72 percent had attempted suicide before being paired with their service dogs, Diamond said.

"We're incredibly good at keeping them alive," Diamond said. "So why wouldn't the VA want to be part of that?"

https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/new-leash-life-government-program-will-train-dogs-veterans-ptsd-n1277370

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