BATTLE GROUND, Wash. (KOIN) — Army veteran Ben Richards, who lives in Iowa, is a husband and father of 4. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and has PTSD after an attack while he was deployed in Iraq.
“One day while we were conducting operations, a suicide bomber driving a sedan laden with several hundred pounds of explosives impacted into my Stryker-armored vehicle and detonated,” he told KOIN 6 News on this Veterans Day.
He said he has trouble when he goes out into the public, like shopping or at a mall. “Instead of having a positive experience, my brain starts to process everything around me as a threat.”
That’s where Northwest Battle Buddies comes into play.
Northwest Battle Buddies is a non-profit that helps combat veterans with PTSD by partnering them with trained and matched service dogs at no charge.
Shannon Walker founded Northwest Battle Buddies about 5 years ago, and in that time has placed 38 dogs with veterans.
“Freedom isn’t free,” Walker told KOIN 6 News. “I feel we need to find a way not just to say thank you, but we need to give a gift of gratitude that is significant.”
The dogs go through about 7 months of training, then the dog and veteran train together for about 6 weeks.
“(The dogs) sense when they’re having a panic attack,” Walker said. “They can bring them back to the moment of now.”
Ben Richards was an Army officer and is now medically retired. He said he was evaluated by the VA as permanently and totally disabled at the age of 36.
He named his battle buddy Bronco, after the unit he commanded in 2006-07 in Iraq.
Bronco, a 13-month-old labradoodle, is trained to wake Ben up when he’s having night terrors.
“And not just wake me up, but provide that immediate reassurance. And I’m sleeping better with him than I’ve slept in years,” he said.
“I’ve done things in the last 6 weeks that I haven’t done in years — going to the mall, going to the movies, going to restaurants. That’s just stuff that I didn’t do anymore.”
That’s what makes it worthwhile for Walker.
“The gift is priceless to men and women who get them,” she said. “It is such an honor to work with these American heroes and see them find the strength within themselves to move forward and move on and to gain their life and freedom back.”
Ben Richards and Bronco will go back to Iowa on Tuesday.
“I really look forward to having a life not in isolation, a life that will lead somewhere, some hope,” he said.
“These service dogs,” Walker said, “are truly life changing for the men and women who have them.”