Recently retired Army major James "Jimmy" LaCaria says he was afraid to leave his apartment before he got Kaeci, his 5-year-old mixed Australian blue heeler and kelpi service dog.
Ivan Pierre Aguirre | USA TODAY
Jimmy LaCaria and Kaeci attend a group meeting at an El Paso hospital last month.
LaCaria, 36, from El Paso, was diagnosed in 2010 with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had been in and out of inpatient psychiatric treatment facilities before his psychiatrist recommended he get a service dog to help him cope with the anxiety and nightmares caused by his debilitating condition.
"Even after getting psychiatric help, I was still afraid to go outside. I was afraid to go into public places or anyplace that had a crowd," LaCaria recalled. "With Kaeci, I'm able to do that. I can have more of a normal life."
An Army policy implemented in January, critics say, has made it harder for soldiers such as LaCaria who are suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries to have specialized psychiatric service dogs on military posts.