National organization aims to help Montana veterans
MISSOULA, Mont. - Leashes of Valor is a national nonprofit organization founded by veterans who want to make sure every retired veteran receives a service dog.
From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to a traumatic brain injury, the dogs are trained to help with a veteran's specific needs. CEO and founder, retired Captain Jason Haag said one of the most important parts about having a service dog is they are there 24 hours a day.
"Yes, he's my best friend. Yes, he's my companion, but he is also my caregiver and my medical device. A lot of people don't understand that, and that's what we try to get out and let people understand that they are a tool to let us recover and move forward," said Haag.
Leashes of Valor involves a 16-day training program that helps create a bond between a veteran and the service dog.
Haag knows firsthand the emotional scars some veterans have coming back from combat.
"There is no doubt about it. I would have taken my own life, with my own hand. I don't know, but I know I didn't care if I woke up the next morning. Between all the narcotics and the drinking, I would have eventually have succumbed to my own devices," said Haag.
Haag believes that having a service dog will lower the amount of veteran death by suicides.
"We all know what this is about, and that's why we are doing this. If I can get a leash in the hand of every veteran that needs it, maybe we can stop this 20 a day," said Haag.
Connecting veterans and service dogs is what founder and president Danique Masingill loves to see.
"It's liberating for the family. I can finally tell my husband, 'No, you're going to the store and pick up that extra gallon of milk I forgot.' There is no more you have PTSD. I'm staying home, now you have a dog, you can go," said Masingill.
Haag wasn't sure that a service dog would actually help him. But he remembers exactly the time he and his dog bonded.
"We traveled 2,000 miles all by ourselves, and I hadn't left my house for two years at that point. I looked at him and raised and he raised one of his eyebrows, and from that point I realized we could do anything," said Haag.
The Board of Directors for Leashes of Valor will be walking in the Homecoming Parade this Saturday in Missoula. They have two dogs they are looking to find a veteran for in town. It is free for veterans to apply, and they choose the veterans on a first-come, first-served basis. You can click here to fill out an application.