Every Friday, for a few hours at lunchtime, combat veterans with PTSD gather at a Mechanicsburg dog training center.
They are men and women who have been shot or have shot others. They know firsthand that war is hell.
They will never be who they were before. But each has a service dog helping him heal the invisible wounds.
Iraq War Veteran Brad Schroeder says, "Cody has completely changed my life for the better."
Brad has battled addiction and depression. Then, he rescued Cody from a shelter. Although he likes to say they rescued each other.
"When I came back from Iraq I was really angry, and I didn't really feel any feelings besides anger and numbness. It took this dog to show me that that wasn't true. He's kind of softened my heart a little."
Brad's counselor at the VA suggested he get a dog and train it to be his service dog. Brad did that through the "DOG T.A.G.S." program. It's free and every trainer is a volunteer.
Joan Klingler is one of those trainers. "I admire what they've done and I thank them so much. I couldn't do it. [gets emotional] I'm sorry. It's way above what I could do."
Fairview Township's Tommy Ward spent 10 months in brutal combat in Vietnam. He's got a fist full of medals and—to this day—a severe case of PTSD.
He says having his service dog Mason, an English Setter, allows him to venture out into potentially crowded situations. For instance, if someone comes too close at the grocery store, Mason is trained to stand behind Tommy and put a front paw on his leg. That touch can be enough to stabilize him and allow him to continue his shopping.
Without Mason, Tommy says, "I think I probably would be in a home. I'd probably be...yeah. I'd probably be in a mental home."
These men bravely share their stories for the sake of fellow veterans who may also benefit from a service dog and DOG T.A.G.S., which stands for Train, Assist, Guide, Serve.
Any breed will do. And many come from shelters. Whether they qualify has more to do with their personality.