WASHINGTON (Circa) - Katie Strong, 60, usually runs five to seven miles. Since June this year, she's been average closer to 30 each day.
Katie Strong ran over 2,000 miles from Oregon to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. this summer to raise money and awareness for veterans' mental health.
On average, 20 veterans commit suicide each day, often due to PTSD according to the VA in 2018.
"When I first read that, I thought it was a misprint," Katie said. "I kept looking and digging for where it was an error, and eventually came to realize: that's not an error. That's a real number."
At the end of each day's run, Katie planted 22 flags in the ground for each veteran lost. She was not just running for awareness, but to raise money for one specific treatment: service dogs for veterans.
A 2018 study from Purdue shows that a service dog's assistance can help ease the depression and anxiety veterans feel due to PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other issues.
Katie partnered with Andy McTigue, a veteran who trains service dogs through his nonprofit, the Veterans Canine Intelligence Agency, to raise money for service dog training along her run. Her GoFundMe has raised nearly $3,000. With the cost of training being close to $20,000 however, Katie said the veterans need more funding from the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
The VA's 2019 budget allots over $8 million for mental health services for veterans. Most of this is allocated towards therapy or medication. As a clinical psychologist, Katie knows those are not always solutions people are willing to pursue. She encourages other clinical psychologists to volunteer their time for veterans, but her main push is for funding for service animals.
There are no specific programs from the VA that fully fund service animals. VA healthcare will cover the veterinary costs of a service dog, but will not cover the cost of the animal, training or insurance.
With life satisfaction, you don't need to commit suicide. You're here, you're going to stay with us.
"The insurance by itself only costs the VA about $100 a month per [dog]," Andy McTigue, who has his own service dog, said. "They're spending more than that on the medication they're giving these veterans. So it's obviously not a cost issue."
Katie hopes that along with the funding she's raised for the Veterans Canine Intelligence Agency, and awareness to the public, she's also raised some interest in Congress. She wants a bill to be proposed, because she knows the cost of a service dog is nothing compared to the life it could save.
"With life satisfaction, you don't need to commit suicide." Katie said. "You're here, you're going to stay with us."
Hold on, pain ends. If you or a loved one is coping with suicidal ideation, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. Help us #ShineTheLight on veteran suicide this #WorldSuicidePreventionDay, and learn more at our link in bio. pic.twitter.com/MVuAjTekvU— WWP (@wwp) September 10, 2018