DENVER (CBS4)– With an estimated one in five veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the Department of Veterans Affairs provides a number of treatment options, except those wanting to use service dogs. It’s been a long debate that Congress once again is trying to address with the introduction of the PAWS ACT of 2019 earlier this year.
Veterans who have turned to service dogs for treatment say the benefits are clear but the VA would like to see more research.
Lyndon Villone is one of those veterans.
On paper, he served with the United States Marine Corps for four years. Working as an amphibious assault vehicle crewman, he deployed twice to Iraq, once in 2006 and again the following year.
“We provided security for highways, and we did causality evacuations,” Villone said.
In reality his service has been a lifelong commitment.
After returning home he was diagnosed with PTSD.
“I was kind of taken back by that I didn’t realize what was going on,” he said.
That all changed when he found “Ice,” his service dog, a husky trained to help with the physical symptoms of the disorder.
“The universe gave him to me. He came in at the most perfect time in my life and now I’m in this position where I’ve learned a lot from him and I’ve educated myself through some schools and I know how to train these dogs for other people,” he said.
While he trains service dogs for a range of disabilities, his heart has directed him to specifically help his fellow veterans through a nonprofit he founded “Heel the Heroes.”
But highly trained service dogs come with a cost often tens of thousands of dollars.
“Most organizations that are training service dogs are limited by funding,” Villone said.
Currently the VA doesn’t provide any monetary help for veterans with PTSD who turn to service dogs, saying the science doesn’t support it.
Congress wants to change that policy with the PAWS ACT 2019, requiring the department set aside millions of dollars for this type of treatment.
It’s a shift Villone says could potentially save lives, “I think if it wasn’t such a liable expense to the veteran and they had help through the VA that many people might come out of their darkness.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, they are currently researching the benefits of service dogs for PTSD and expect results by 2020.
Heel the Heroes is one organization that could benefit from that additional funding but until then they’re raising money through calendar sales, to help pair one of their dogs in training with the right veteran.
For more information on Heel the Heroes, visit their website: heeltheheroes.org/store.