DES MOINES – US Representatives will bring guests with them to attend the President’s State of the Union Address Tuesday night. This gives them the opportunity to bring a guest that can raise awareness for important causes.

That’s what Iowa 2nd Congressional District House Representative Ashley Hinson is doing by bringing Sergeant Trent Dirks as her guest to the State of the Union.

Hinson wants to raise awareness of the mental health needs that veterans face.

“What Trent said about the number of veterans who are taking their lives every single day it’s a pretty good signal to me that there is more work to be done. It’s why we passed the legislation we did last year to help make sure that there are more mental health access services for veterans no matter where they live in our country,” Hinson said.

Trent Dirks is a retired US Army Sergeant who developed PTSD and substance abuse issues after returning from Afghanistan. Dirks struggled with mental illness until he was paired with his service dog Tracer who helped turn his life around.

“For somebody who is for the most part capable but struggles mentally and emotionally but suffers from symptoms of depression and anxiety panic attacks PTSD and nightmares, I wound up applying for a service dog and I later met Tracer and Tracer immediately started giving me some help and some light at the end of the tunnel,” Dirks said.

Dirks got Tracer from an organization called Retrieving Freedom, where Dirks now works. Retrieving Freedom works to train and match service dogs with veterans who have disabilities and children with autism.

Dirks said that Tracer may have saved his life, but there are many other veterans who still need support.

“The staggering statistic that gets thrown around all the time is 22 veterans a day commit suicide in the United States and I was almost one of them, and if it weren’t for Retrieving Freedom and my service dog Tracer I wouldn’t be here today. So I just try to do everything that I can to help spread the word our organization is out here trying to help veterans struggling and help them become more successful individuals,” Dirks said.

While President Biden may not specifically mention the mental health of veterans in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, Representatives bringing guests like Sergeant Dirks bring awareness to the issues they face.

To learn more about Retrieving Freedom and Sergeant Dirks’ story, visit Retrieving Freedom’s website.