By Eric Dehm
To say veteran Cole Lyle wasn’t living his best life after leaving the Marine Corps after six years would be a major understatement.
“I was one of those Marines that got out and was on his couch watching TV and drinking a lot of alcohol,” Lyle tells ConnectingVets.com. “I was also on medication, so the alcohol with the medication was having significant negative effects on my mood in general, and the issues I was dealing with already experiencing with post-traumatic stress.”
The combination of PTS, alcohol and prescription medication has no doubt contributed to the staggering number of suicides among vets. Lyle was very close to becoming a statistic himself.
“There were several nights I found myself with a pistol in my mouth,” he says. “Not to be morbid, but if I didn’t have a light at the end of the tunnel, I’d be dead.”
Kaya is Lyle’s service dog; and since they met, Lyle’s life has completely changed. At first, her needs — like simply taking her for a walk — were enough to force him to get out of the rut he was in. In turn, Kaya was specially trained to help Lyle deal with specific issues.
“I had recurring nightmares pretty often. So she was trained to recognize when that happens, jump up in bed, lick my face, turn on the lights, take the sheets off the bed and then just sit with me on the bed until my heart rate goes down.”
This kind of care is not cheap, however.
After doing some initial research, Lyle found he simply wasn’t going to get assistance paying for Kaya from Veterans Affairs. Unless you are blind, a service dog isn’t considered as a “medication” for veterans.
That’s something Lyle is working to change with the P.A.W.S. Act, which would provide more service dogs to veterans diagnosed with PTS. Interestingly, the idea for the P.A.W.S. (Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers) came from a chance encounter with a politician who wondered why a seemingly healthy person like Lyle needed a service dog.
“Senator [Thom] Tillis from North Carolina actually stopped me on the street one day and had that question,” Lyle says. “I said, ‘oh this is why I have her, and the VA doesn’t fund her’ — and he said ‘I think that’s horrible that the VA doesn’t fund it.’ So I said, ‘I agree. What are you gonna do about it?”‘
When the senator invited Lyle to his office, the idea for the P.A.W.S. Act started forming in Lyle”s head.
While medications are effective for most people, they don’t work for everyone, and Lyle says that until we, as a nation, offer the best solution for all of our vets, we are doing those veterans a great disservice. Lyle says it’s common sense to provide options, particularly one as safe as a service dog.
“There’s no side effects that come with a service dog.”
The bill was reintroduced in early May of this year.