Man's best friend could speed healing at VA

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - About one out of every five veterans returns home with invisible wounds of war. An Ohio representative argues assuming command over a four-legged friend, could be a key to improving the recovery of struggling veterans.

At holiday parties and among friends, former Army Ranger Nick Starling found himself constantly on high-alert. Starling suffers from hyper-vigilance – a symptom of Post-traumatic stress disorder and his tours in Iraq.

But a year-and-a-half ag, a ‘Saint’ entered his life. “That’s why I can have my back to the door right now is because I know he’s got my back,” said Starling as he talked to our reporter.

Saint is Starling’s service dog. The highly-trained rescue relieves Starling’s anxiety – allowing him to attend an event like this without feeling the need to seclude himself at home for a week afterward. “So he helps out with that,” Starling said with a laugh.

“Anybody that’s ever been a pet owner knows that the bond you create with your dog really does make a difference in your life,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio).

He wants struggling veterans to take on a new mission while they’re in a VA hospital: train dogs to assist others with physical and mental disabilities. In theory, the newfound companion would complement the new trainer’s recovery.

“Anything we can do to get these veterans help we need to focus on,” said Stivers.

Stivers said his idea for a pilot project at three hospitals is backed by research into the positive effects of both service and therapy dogs. His proposed law cleared the House but stalled in the Senate in 2016 – he hopes the outcome will be different in 2018.

The current bill has significant bi-partisan support, but will need to clear several legislative hurdles to sniff any chance of becoming law.

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