It’s a sobering – and sometimes overlooked – statistic from the Iraq War.

Of the more than 22,000 troops injured in the conflict, more than 500 have come home as amputees.

A New York organization and a Chicago-area teenager are coming to their aid through the VetDogs program, which provides service dogs to such veterans.

“From when the soldier gets wounded and loses a limb, the treatment and rehab is first class,” says Mike Sergeant, the chief training officer for the program, which was started last year by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, N.Y. “But (there’s) a comment that has been made to us, from the veterans: Once they go home they truly are forgotten. I think the best comment I heard, when we issued a dog (recently), was, `This dog is my ticket back to the real world.'”

Since its founding 60 years ago, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind has been providing guide dogs, at no charge, to blind individuals. Included in that group are U.S. military veterans.

“One of the original tenets of our mission statement was to provide guide dogs for returning wounded who were blind or visually impaired,” says Jeff Bressler, the foundation’s chief marketing officer.

About three years ago, after studies indicated that the number of blind and visually impaired Americans was going to double within the next 20 years, the Guide Dog Foundation ratcheted up its involvement with the Veterans Administration, and has provided more than 30 dogs since that time.

And last April, the organization began VetDogs, a program that provides service dogs for amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan. The dogs help the vets with balance and fetching, and are taught to react in emergencies. They also serve as friends.

Jose Ramos lost his left arm and suffered back and leg injuries when he deflected a rocket east of Fallujah in 2004. In January, the 26-year-old former Marine with 3/1 Scouts Sniper platoon became the first veteran to receive a dog through the program. His new partner is Stryker, a 2-year-old male Lab.

“One of the hardest things for people to realize is, when you get out of the military, in a way you’re sort of thrown out,” he said from Washington, where he and Stryker were undergoing training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “A lot of us weren’t ready to get out. But due to the injuries we had to get out, and you lose all those brothers that you had in the service. You still talk to them, but talking to them on the phone isn’t the same as being with them all the time, which you’re used to. Stryker kind of fills that void.”

Ramos says Stryker assists him in getting up and down stairs and into bed, and fetches anything he might drop, such as his keys or wallet. In addition, Stryker goes with Ramos to George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where he’s studying international relations and trying to double-minor in Arabic and Islamic studies. Ramos was recently named to the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors, a bipartisan commission investigating the treatment of wounded service members.

“He wears a vest with pockets, and he’s trained to carry 10 pounds,” Ramos says. “So when he goes to school he can help carry books.”

But the training – the dogs and then the dog-veteran team – is expensive, close to $40,000 according to Sergeant. That’s where Ari Schiff of Lincolnwood, Ill., comes in. A junior at Francis W. Parker High School, he wants to raise $30,000 to donate to the cause.

Schiff, 17, says he learned about the need for the dogs last August when he met a Marine Corps captain during a Colorado rafting trip.

“I asked him what the most important need was for soldiers coming back to the States,” Schiff says. “And he said a lot of guys needed guide dogs because it’s not a federally funded service.”

Schiff’s nascent efforts have included speaking to teachers at school and going door to door. He has raised about $6,500, a start at paying a debt, he figures.

“I really appreciate everything people in the military are doing for us,” says Schiff, who hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. “This is a good way to pay them back.”