These pups are changing veterans' lives

- Michael Jernigan is totally blind. His guide dog, named 'Treasure,' means everything to him.

Michael lost his eyes while serving in Iraq when an IED exploded.

"I had 45 percent of my cranium crushed in. I had shrapnel go in my right eye, exit my left eye. I'm actually the first service member to lose both eyes in the Global War on Terror," he said.

Neither the Veterans Administration nor the Department of Defense supply guide dogs to service members who lose their sight in combat, but Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto gives them highly trained dogs -- free of charge.

Jernigan now works for that organization and helps many veterans who have lost their sight or who suffer from PTSD.  He says what the dogs can do is nothing short of amazing.

"Not one of our veterans who has a service dog or guide dog has committed suicide," offered Jernigan,  "And we lose 22 veterans a day to suicide in this country." 

Veterans represent the fastest growing group of clients here. Their Paws for Patriots program looks at new ways to help more veterans.

All the dogs go through hundreds of hours of training. They can become guide dogs or service dogs based on what they're best at. For PTSD, the training includes hugging.

"And the panic starts to temper down and dissolve and go away," explained Jernigan.

A multi-million-dollar expansion is underway at Southeastern Guide Dogs. It's all from donations. They get no funding from the government.

For Jernigan and thousands of others, nothing compares to their four-legged friends.

"This dog makes sure I'm safe. And for that I'm ever grateful," Jernigan added.

You can volunteer to help train dogs or make a donation to Southeastern Guide dogs. Go to www.guidedogs.org for more information.

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