RICHMOND (WRIC) - Service dogs are being used more and more to help treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, but as it stands now, Virginia law only allows them for the hearing and visually-impaired.
Animals used by other patients can be and often are denied access to most places.
It's why one State Senator is trying to change that with a bill -- inspired by a local veteran.
More and more members of the military are coming back home with PTSD. One of them is Jason Haag.
"I led marines into combat three separate times I fought in some of the hardest battles in Iraq and Afghanistan," he says. "I've lost countless friends in combat but I've lost more friends now to suicide than on the battlefield."
Haag, who was a marine officer for 14 years, says 22 veterans commit suicide every day, overcome by the anger and fear that he, too, has felt.
Haag had to take 32 different medications to function, but since service dog Axel came into his life, he's down to two.
"Just like prescription medication, they are a medical device," he says. "Axel hits that reset button for us. He lets us get back out there and do the things we want to do again."
Senator Bryce Reeves drafted legislation after hearing stories from veterans like Haag who've been kept out of places like libraries and restaurants with their service dogs.
"As they garner the courage to go out back into society and take their place amongst us after serving us on the battlefields that they not be not denied that access," Reeves says.
And that can be a blow to patients trying to move beyond silent suffering.
"Life before Axel was absolutely miserable. I wasn't able to do anything."
Senator Reeves expects opposition. There have been concerns about people using fake service dogs, but he hopes to get the conversation started and give all patients the same rights.
The 2014 Virginia General Assembly session kicks off on Wednesday.
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