As a Marine Corps infantryman, Kenny Bass served his country by fighting in Iraq in 2003. On his second tour in July of that year, Bass was conducting a counter-ambush patrol when an IED blew up as he and his fellow soldiers drove by the roadside. The physical and mental injuries Bass suffered irrevocably changed his life, and he was just 23 years old.
After he got home, Bass developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a traumatic brain injury, Behcet's disease and hearing loss. His PTSD worsened, making it impossible to sleep through the night or go outside in large crowds. “I was holed up in my garage on all kinds of medication for almost a decade,” Bass said. “There were days I didn’t remember my kids’ names."
Desperate to regain normalcy, Bass went through multiple Veterans' Administration system programs, only to find himself taking 30 pills a day, struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts as the side effects of those pills, and not getting better.
Finally, Bass' physician recommended he get a service dog, and although the VA prescribed the dog, it would not put any money toward the dog's training or purchase. Bass had to struggle to come up with $15,000 on his own for his dog, Atlas. After this experience, Bass teamed up with a friend and fellow soldier, Joshua Rivers, to create the Battle Buddy Foundation, which is dedicated to helping veterans access and afford service dogs.
As well as connecting veterans with service dogs, the Battle Buddy Foundation also offers peer and community support for veterans and their families as well as educating and bringing awareness to the public about disabled veterans' rights and service dog etiquette and law.
“Our goal is to provide long-term and tangible change for veterans and their families,” Bass said. “Our dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate a veteran’s specific disabilities. That’s what truly sets our organization apart: It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Atlas has changed Bass' life completely. With the dog's help, Bass has begun to experience a healthier sleep. "Atlas is trained to sense and interrupt my nightmares,” Bass explained. “He’ll lick my face or lay on me, to wake me up and calm me down.” Additionally, Atlas helps Bass manage going outside in crowded public places by protecting his back and responding to Bass' other triggers.
“I know he’s watching my back, and it gives me that extra buffer to relax,” Bass said. “It helps me stop before I react, with anger or loud talking or running [...] Your self awareness increases, and the normal things start to feel natural again. Through your relationship with your service dog, your battle buddy, you begin to open up that emotional side and connect again.”
Today, Bass no longer takes medication. He has regained control over his life and regularly appears in public to promote the Battle Buddy Foundation. Roughly 22 veterans commit suicide per day, and Bass might have been amongst those statistics if it weren't for Atlas. Every day, Bass and Rivers work to help more veterans adjust to civilian life and address their injuries with the help of a loyal, trained service dog.
Today, the foundation works to train and support 30 dogs at a cost of $25,000 each. But to Bass, every penny spent on a dog means a veteran who will regain normalcy in his or her life. Bass stated, “I struggled for a long time – just like anyone else. I thought all that pain was just that. But all that pain you walk away with, you can find value in the pain and use it. We have to fix the way we handle reintegration, and who better to fix it than us?”
If you're interested in supporting the Battle Buddy Foundation, donate here. Check out the film produced about Bass, Atlas and the creation of the foundation in the video below, and spread the word about this incredibly important program. Thanks to Bass, Rivers and dogs such as Atlas, the future is much brighter for veterans everywhere.