Walter Parker was supposed to be a supply clerk when he deployed to Vietnam for a 14-month tour, but he "never saw a typewriter." Instead, Parker, an Army veteran, was sent to the frontlines to fight in Da Nang and Saigon during the Tet Offensive.
As a result of his service, Parker got a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. In combination with how those in the United States treated returning military members, Parker told Townhall for almost thirty years he never wanted anyone to know he had served in the military.
"Many years I had a hard way of living. It was a sad way of living, it wasn't even living," Parker said as he held back tears, telling how he would get frequent, vivid nightmares of his time in Vietnam. Because of the trauma, Parker would barely speak to anyone, battle suicidal thoughts alone, and be unable to go out in public spaces.
All that changed when Parker got his service dog, Jackson, six years ago through Paws4Vets. Since his life has dramatically changed for the better with Jackson at his side, Parker wants to do his part in making sure H.R. 4305, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act, is finally passed in the House and the Senate.
Parker's service dog, Jackson. (Julio Rosas/Townhall)
Introduced by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) in September, the bill will create a pilot program at the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand access to service dogs for veterans with mental health issues. The bill has over 300 co-sponsors in the House, meaning it can bypass committee and go straight to the floor for a vote. Stivers, who also serves in the Ohio National Guard as a Brigadier General, said this bill will improve veterans' quality of life.
Parker and Jackson were Stivers' guests for President Trump's State of the Union address on Tuesday to help push the bill over the finish line in the House.
"And now that I got this dog, life is so precious and so kind and so loving," Parker said. "Look at it this way, six years ago I would not be able to sit and talk with you, even at my house. Today, I'm at the State of the Union! What a change in life, and I give all credit to [Paws4Vets]...I love life now."
With Jackson's help, Parker is no longer on medication to deal with his PSTD. Unfortunately, it's not his only health battle. Due to exposure to Agent Orange, Parker is dealing with his third bout with cancer.
"I'm going to fight it. I've had a talk with God, he's not ready for me and Hell won't have me," he said.
The bill will allow the VA to provide grants to private organizations that train service dogs to cover the cost of training. The pilot program will start in 10 locations for 10 years, with the price tag totaling around $12 million during that period.
"I'd like to see this made permanent...we want to make it permanent, but I'm ok starting with a pilot [program], and I think it will prove out a thousand times," Stivers said.
The bill is going to be voted on Wednesday and is expected to pass, where it will then head to the Senate.
"Please pass this bill. We need to save lives. I don't know what other ways they've got in the pipeline to help, but for me, from the experience that I got and what I've seen, it works," Parker said.