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Palm Beach State College student, Army veteran graduates with the help of his service dog

Posted at 7:28 PM, May 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-10 22:00:44-04

One by one, the Palm Beach State College students walked across the stage Tuesday. Nearly 2,700 men, women and one dog.

While the dog didn’t actually graduate, he is the reason someone else did.

“It’s ok to get help. Everyone needs help,” said Daniel O’Neal.

O’Neal is an army veteran. He served 12 years in the military with 2 tours in Iraq. However, it was his first tour in 2004  when O’Neal was injured in a road side bomb. He had shrapnel lodged in the back of his head.

His recovery took weeks. He even went on to complete that second tour. Eventually O’Neal would be medically retired, but moving forward, he faced a major obstacle. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Loud noises startle m,” said O’Neal. “I’m always anxious. Anxiety. I get angry easily.”

The symptoms made going back to school to get his paralegal degree nearly impossible.

“If I couldn’t get someone to go eat lunch with me, I wouldn’t. I would literally starve,” said O’Neal.

That was, until O’Neal decided he would enlist in a different kind of service, his Siberian Husky named Ghost. Ghost became his certified PTSD service dog.

"I was actually motivated to go to the classes and be in school and not miss it,” he said.

Even O’Neal’s teachers noticed the impact

“Ghost is a calming presence in the classroom,” said Robert Van De Velde, a dean at the College. "[Daniel] was exceptional, always participated in class discussions."

So on Tuesday’s momentous occasion, when both O’Neal and Ghost walked across the stage, it proved together O’Neal could achieve his goals.

“I had him there with me so I was like okay I can do this.”

O’Neal is now on to those next goals. He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree and eventually law school.
He’s already working part-time at the State Attorney’s Office.