JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A K9s For Warriors graduation ceremony Thursday night included a first for the organization -- a 73-year-old who is now the very first Vietnam War veteran to graduate from its program with his new service dog, Loose.
Retired Lt. Col. David Wood is also the 700th veteran to graduate from K9s for Warriors. He was among four others who graduated at the ceremony.
“This milestone tells us, not only is our program working, but it’s desperately needed,” said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s For Warriors. Since we started ten years ago, we’ve served more than 700 warriors struggling with invisible wounds of war. Lt. Col. Wood’s story shows us veterans of all eras can find hope again with a service dog.”
According to the organization, Wood shattered his leg on May 6, 1968 during a firefight in Vietnam. He was shortly thereafter awarded the Purple Heart and Combat Infantrymen’s Badge.
His older brother, Darrell, was killed in Vietnam in 1970. After numerous tours, ranks and positions, he retired in 1995 as lieutenant coronel.
For years, he’s battled post-traumatic stress. Recently, he turned to K9s For Warriors.
“Coming to K9s For Warriors and receiving Loose has been the best experience of my life,” Wood said.
According to the organization, Loose is named after John Loosen, a Vietnam War veteran who was also a Purple Heart recipient. K9s For Warriors says he was an advocate for veterans and instrumental in raising funds for the organization over the years. He died this year.
Citing an annual report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, pre-9/11 era veterans are disproportionally affected by suicide. It found in 2018 that veterans age 55-74 accounted for essentially as many suicides (2,587) as those age 18-34 (874) and 35-54 (1,730) combined.
With its expansion, K9s For Warriors says, the organization will now serve older veterans in its effort to end veteran suicide. It opened its program to all veterans this year.
“I experienced a lot of emptiness over the last five years,” Wood said. “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. I then discovered the world of service dogs. I went online and found K9s For Warriors, and I immediately sensed it was genuine.”