SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- The suicide rate among the nation's military has now surpassed the number of troops dying in battle. However, the local non-profit, Shelter to Soldier, is looking to change those numbers by matching shelter dogs with veterans.
They call their objective, "Saving Two Lives at a Time." One veteran who is taking advantage of the program is Army vet Dustin Potash, who spent 12 years in the military, and as a result, suffers from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"When I was struggling it was hard for me to hold down a job, and hold down relationships, so I isolated myself from family and friends."
He had owned a service dog in the past and decided to go that route again. This time turning to Shelter to Soldier which adopts dogs from shelters and trains them to be service dogs for post 9/11 veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and or other injuries associated with traumatic service experiences.
"For me personally," says Potash, "I didn't even think I'd be around to hold a conversation, just because of the symptoms I was having. Shelter to Soldier literally saved both our lives, mine and Nigel."
Dustin says that while every veteran is different, his service dog Nigel gives him the motivation to get up every day.
"I did not want to go outside due to fear and hyper-vigilance, but having Nigel motivates me to get up and get out. He has to go to the bathroom, and he's got to go for a walk and I'm his handler, so I have to be able to do that. It's not a magic wand, my symptoms aren't going to go away because I have a service dog, but he's definitely there to help me and he does."
The mission of Shelter to Soldier is "Saving Lives Two at a Time."
"All the dogs that are matched with veterans are all sponsored dogs that are rescued from mostly Southern California shelters. The program was absolutely free to me, and it's free to all veterans and that couldn't be possible without people sponsoring those dogs."
If you or someone you know is struggling the San Diego Crisis Hotline is available 24-7. The number is (888) 724-7240.