By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) - A Colorado state lawmaker is hoping to launch a first-of-its-kind pilot program to help veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) train their own service dogs.
"These veterans that have these dogs have told me the dog has saved their lives many times; kept them from committing suicide," said Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-El Paso County.
Among those supporting the bill is Navy veteran Jeremy Turrell. He trained his 7-year-old golden retriever to be his service dog.
"I originally got him just as a pet when I got out of the service. He was actually supposed to help me get a girlfriend. He failed, but he fulfilled the bill as my best friend even better," Turrell said.
While his dog's name is Chaos, Turrell, who returned from combat with PTSD, says he is a calming force.
"My life in general, he's what's kept me going because if I'm not going to change my life for me, then I'll at least do it for him," Turrell said. "The best thing he does is come to your aid. He's there for you to love on him so he can love on you."
Landgraf plans to introduce a bill that would establish a pilot program for 10 veterans to access and train service dogs to help with their PTSD.
"My only regret is only reaching out to 10 veterans, but it's a start and then hopefully they will be able to turn around and do the same thing for other veterans and the program will be self-sustaining and it can branch out to police and fire," Landgraf said.
She says mental health professionals, veterinarians and dog trainers have already volunteered to help with the program. She's hoping to get the dogs -- partially trained -- from the prison system.
The Veterans Administration says 22 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide. Colorado has the fifth highest suicide rate in the country and El Paso County, where many veterans live, has the highest rate in the state.
"If we can save the lives of 10 veterans; help veterans have productive, normal lives; what's better than that?" said Landgraf.
Her bill has bipartisan support.
The lawmaker is working on other veterans issues too. She held the first veterans' caucus at the state Capitol Monday.
"I'm hoping to figure out what kind of legislation that's needed; what will help veterans the most."
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