For many war veterans, the biggest battle doesn’t take place overseas. It happens stateside, after returning home and attempting to readjust to civilian life. Justin Morseth, a military veteran who was honorably discharged in 2003 after sustaining a traumatic brain injury in Iraq, knows this all too well.

In 2006, after his wife, Megan, gave birth to their first child — a son — Justin was overcome with crippling anxiety, which was later attributed to severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD). “It suddenly brought back repressed memories of some children that had died in Iraq,” Megan told the Indy Star. “It just kind of exploded everything in him.”

But even as the Morseths struggled to cope with Justin’s PTSD, there was one aspect of their lives that could always keep the former soldier centered: His rescue dog, Samson. The couple credits Samson for pulling Justin out of his terrifying flashbacks and keeping him calm in the face of stress. “I definitely think Samson saved his life,” Megan said.
MORE: Why Austin, Texas, Is One of the Best Places to Be a Stray
Inspired by the healing power of Samson (who has since passed away), the Morseths created a program called Pets Healing Vets, which pairs shelter dogs to Indiana veterans who suffer from PTSD or have had traumatic injuries. The adoption, training and medical care of the dog is completely free — for life.
In partnership with the Humane Society for Hamilton County, Pets for Vets has paired 13 veterans with dogs since the program started in 2012. And so far, it’s been a wagging success. Greg Sexton, an Army veteran who was injured in Iraq, got a black Labrador retriever through the program, which he says has been a “huge help”, especially in crowds, where he can easily get overwhelmed. “You get to rescue a dog,” Sexton said about his experience. “And the dog kind of gets to rescue you.”
Pets for Vets has been so successful that the Morseths, who now have two rescue dogs, and the area’s Humane Society wants to see the program grow. They have expanded it to law enforcement officers who also suffer from PTSD and are actively seeking veterans to take part in it. After all, if anyone deserves an unwavering loyal best friend, it’s our nation’s veterans. “Bringing those two together is Kismet. It’s the way that it should be,” Megan said.
ALSO: These Dogs Know How to Serve Their Masters and Their Country