By Jeff Todd
STRASBURG, Colo. (CBS4)- A Colorado charity says its radical idea to help veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is working.
“They come back and they need some help getting through their times. And medication doesn’t get you through those times,” said Kevin Sonka who runs the Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project.
A few years ago, Sonka had the idea to not just get veterans service animals, but actually teach veterans who to train their own service animals.
“I can’t just hand you a dog and say, ‘Hey, you’re cured brother.’ It’s a lot of work,” said Steven Brown. “There’s going to come a day when Toby is not around, and I’m going to have to train another dog. I have the skills and tools to train a new puppy to do what he does for me in the future.”
Brown served a two-year tour in Iraq from 2005 to 2007. He suffered several concussions and a Traumatic Brain Injury. He was reluctant to seek help or treatment after returning stateside but eventually was diagnosed with PTSD.
“Doctor, medication, the gamut for 10 years,” Brown said. “I do not want to be a statistic of 22 (veteran suicides) a day and I was almost there.”
Brown connected with Sonka and eventually the RMDP was able to secure a service dog for Brown. A German Short Hair Pointer named Toby.
“It’s a great feeling,” Brown said. “He’s not judging me, he’s not mad at me, so he’s happy.”
After working with Toby for a few months, Brown started to ween himself off anti-depressant medication.
“April 1st was the last time I took any PTSD meds,” Brown said.
“I just want these guys to have a normal life again. They put their life on the line and the least we can do is try and help them and say thank you,” said Sonka. “It makes me so proud that Steve is now off all his medication.”
Sonka started RMDP to honor his son Cpl. David Sonka who was killed in Afghanistan in 2013 alongside his military K-9 Flex.
The Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project is holding several fundraisers this weekend.
Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.