Four tours in Iraq left Sergeant Kelsey Smith with severe anxiety, insomnia, nightmares and depression. Now a combat instructor at Quantico, Sgt. Smith spent years trying to get professional help. Nothing really worked until he met a 2-year-old golden retriever named Lori.
"I don't think that I've had a nightmare since she's been with me,” said Smith. “She sleeps right next to my bed. She has her own bed."
Lori is even trained to turn on the lights and wake Smith out of a nightmare. Smith says that when he awakes and sees Lori, he knows that he’s back to reality.
Lori came from the non-profit Veterans Moving Forward, which trains and provides service dogs for active duty military with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other physical challenges.
"There's been times where I'll be at that point where my leg is shaking and I'm picking at my fingernails and I know those are my signs,” said Smith. “The next thing I know, her head is in my lap. It calms me down. It’s zen."
Lori can detect PTSD symptoms before Sgt. Smith does. VMF spends months training the veteran and the dog together before permanently matching them.
The organization also trains therapy dogs. These dogs don’t live with the vets but attend therapy sessions with them. VMF says vets often cancel their sessions unless the dogs are there.
“They show up early,” says Karen Jeffries, founder of Veterans Moving Forward. “They're excited to be there and they really, really work."
In addition to PTSD dogs and service dogs, VMF also provides “comfort dogs” for seriously ill or confined veterans.