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Vietnam War veteran David Wood sits with his K9s for Warriors service dog, Loose. Wood on Nov. 18, 2021, became the first Vietnam veteran to graduate from the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based nonprofit.
Vietnam War veteran David Wood sits with his K9s for Warriors service dog, Loose. Wood on Nov. 18, 2021, became the first Vietnam veteran to graduate from the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based nonprofit. (K9s for Warriors/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — A 73-year-old veteran became the 700th retired armed service member to graduate from K9s for Warriors, joined by his new service dog named Loose.

David Wood also became the first Vietnam War veteran to benefit from a canine companion from the 10-year-old Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based provider of trained service dogs to military veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other trauma.

Wood joined Loose at a Thursday program that saw them and four other veterans graduate from the program.

“Coming to K9s for Warriors and receiving Loose has been the best experience of my life,” said Wood, who is from Oregon and was flown in for the three-week program at no cost to him.

Wood was involved in a 1968 firefight when his left leg was shattered, the organization said. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Combat Infantrymen’s Badge for his battle wounds, but his older brother Darrell was killed two years later, also in Vietnam.

Wood retired in 1995 after numerous tours, ranks and positions, but suffered from PTSD following his U.S. Army service. Saying he experienced “a lot of emptiness” over the last five years,” Wood said he turned to K9s for Warriors for ways to handle those traumatic symptoms,

“I was within the VA system seeking therapy and medication. I was looking for an alternative, and that alternative led me to exploring dogs first,” Wood said. “I then discovered the world of service dogs. I went online and found K9s for Warriors, and I immediately sensed it was genuine.”

His service dog is named after another Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, John Loosen, who advocated for veterans and raised funds for K9s for Warriors until his early 2021 death.

Making a difference for those who served

“We’ve served more than 700 warriors struggling with invisible wounds of war,” K9s for Warriors CEO Rory Diamond said. “Lt. Col. Wood’s story shows us veterans of all eras can find hope again with a service dog.”

The nonprofit works to match veterans with post-war trauma with dogs that can help mitigate their symptoms as well as restore their confidence and independence. K9s for Warriors headquarters is at 114 Camp K9 Road in Ponte Vedra Beach, with a Gold Family Campus in Alachua and a Petco Love K9 Center in San Antonio.

K9s for Warriors had been mainly helping veterans of more recent military operations in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan. But when studies showed that suicide disproportionately affects older veterans who previously had not been eligible for K9s for Warriors’ services, the organization announced a change.

A 2020 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report on veteran suicide prevention showed that veterans from before the 9/11 terrorist attacks are disproportionately affected by suicide. In 2018, veterans aged 55 to 74 accounted for nearly as many suicides (2,587) as those aged 18 to 34 (874) and 35 to 54 (1,730) combined, the report said.

With the expansion of K9s for Warriors’ member population, the organization will now serve older veterans in its effort to prevent them from taking their own lives. K9s for Warriors now accepts service dog applications from any veteran experiencing service-connected symptoms.

As of this month, K9s for Warriors has rescued about 1,500 dogs. And during Thursday’s graduation ceremony, Stryker Corp. presented a $55,000 donation to the organization.

©2021 The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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