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By Carol Lansford

Injured serviceman and service dog

“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave”. –Ronald Reagan

On April 23, 2012, Justin and Carol Lansford’s lives were changed forever. Justin was in Ghanzni, Afghanistan serving as a Team Leader and machine gunner for the United States Army. His truck was struck by a roadside bomb, leaving him trapped under the burning vehicle for over 30 minutes. Justin sustained numerous severe injuries including the loss of his left leg above the knee, injuries to his right leg, a ruptured spleen, damage to his liver and pancreas, collapsed lungs, a broken back, and burns on his right arm. Justin was sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for his recovery. While there, he suffered several severe infections that nearly claimed his life. After his release to outpatient treatment, Justin’s wife Carol moved to Walter Reed to assist him.

In 2013, Justin was medically retired from the United States Army and on his way to becoming more independent through the recovery and therapy process. Carol obtained a position as a government-contracted service dog training instructor, which fulfilled both her passion for animals and for helping injured military service members. During Carol’s time with the company, Justin was assigned a dog named Gabe who was recently named Dog of the Year by the World Dog Awards.

After two years of service with this company, Justin and Carol moved to Florida. Carol had difficulty finding a position in Florida that fit her passion of helping veterans through the use of service dogs. It was then that Carol decided that she would start her own non-profit doing just that. And, so Valor Service Dogs was created. This organization helps post-9/11 wounded veterans regain their independence, return to civilian life, and maintain successful partnerships through the training and placement of mobility assistance and PTSD service dogs. In addition to aiding their veterans in community reintegration, both physically and psychologically, Valor Service Dogs brings awareness and education to the general public on service dogs, their training, and the laws that allow service dogs to be active members of society.

Valor Service Dogs Liberty and Benning

The dogs at Valor learn approximately 80 commands that will assist in the completion of daily tasks such as retrieving items from various areas of one’s house, picking up dropped items, opening and closing doors, turning on or off lights, getting someone water from the refrigerator, and recognizing and interrupting signs of PTSD; these signs may include shaking or tapping one’s leg when feeling anxious, burying one’s face in their hands, or nervous rubbing together of one’s hands.

Carol is often asked how she is able to give up her dogs after spending two years with them. Her response?

“These dogs mean the world to me and I love them as if they were my own. But, they have a much bigger purpose in life than me. Our military members have given so much to give us the freedoms we enjoy. This is my chance to give them the same freedom. It is also my way of giving our brave veterans the future they so deserve.”

Justin and Carol are a beautiful example of resiliency, hope, and strength. Justin’s heroism and fight for his own life gave Carol the motivation and passion to start her own organization that gives back to our military veterans. By creating this organization, Justin and Carol have given our wounded veterans a chance at life again.

If you would like more information on Valor Service Dogs, please visit their Facebook page and website at

This post was written by Carol Lansford. Edits to this post were made by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, social media and webinar coordination specialist for OneOp. Their team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about OneOp Family Development concentration on our Facebook and Twitter.

Blog Images: Valor Service Dogs (2015). Personal photos used with permission from Carol Lansford of Valor Service Dogs. Retrieved