A lack of shelter, warmth, and safety. No relief from oppressive heat or bone-numbing cold. Shortages of food and water. Months on end without seeing family or loved ones. Surviving the most horrendous days and nights imaginable. Watching brothers-in-arms fall on the battlefield. This has been the hell on Earth that has been endured for countless soldiers throughout the generations.
Most of us have never been to war or in a combat zone. We have never had to worry about being blown up by a roadside bomb. Most of us have never had to watch friends die right next to us. We don’t know what it’s like to experience that kind of fear.
But many of our nation’s veterans have known all these things, and more.
These men and women have served our country under these very conditions, and are now trying to reintegrate back into what we know as a normal society. But many of them are still struggling with another kind of war that’s taking place inside of them. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs reports that a veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes. Another study has shown a significant correlation between suicide attempts by veterans and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). An alarming 755,200 veterans have been diagnosed with and suffer from PTSD, and 184 new cases are diagnosed every day. Countless more will remain unknown and untreated.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and brain injury (PTSD/TBI) are conditions many veterans acquire during their service protecting our country. These lifelong, unseeable injuries destroy veterans’ ability to function in a family or in society. It affects as many as 20%, of returning veterans and is strongly associated with a risk of addiction and suicide. There is no consensus model for correct treatment. Veterans often end up on large regimens of drugs with addictive potential and/or serious side effects.
The V.A. estimates that 400,000 former soldiers are currently being treated for PTSD, with the numbers climbing daily. Divorce rates, substance abuse problems and unemployment among veterans with PTSD well exceed those rates within the general population. Suicide rates are off the map, with 32 to 39 attempts daily (with about half as many succeeding). What’s happening is tragic and may be completely preventable.
Thanks to incredible organizations that are pairing canines with soldiers, our country’s wounded warriors are learning to acclimate back into society more successfully. Canine companions are changing their guardian’s lives in ways that few could have ever imagined.
According to medical professionals, as well as organizations that train service dogs for veterans with PTSD, veterans paired with service dogs always show improvement. Suicide rates nearly disappear. Divorce and substance abuse decline.
The number of pharmaceuticals prescribed for PTSD patients is off the charts these days, but veterans who are able to receive a trained service dog, are very fortunate; their prescriptions decrease.
Here are a few amazing organizations that pair wounded warriors with trained service dogs to help them heal:
Below are just a few stories from veterans that have been healed from a little help from a canine friend:
Robert Soliz, a 31 year young former Army Specialist was discharged from the Army in 2005 after serving in a heavy artillery quick-reaction force in South Baghdad. Fear, anxiety, depression and substance abuse took over his life and he began to suffer from PTSD. He became isolated from his family. He explains, “I couldn’t show affection, couldn’t hug my kids” …. “Going to the movies was the worst: the crowds, the dark, the whispering. I would constantly be scanning for who was going to come stab me from behind”. Training with an appointed service dog is the treatment that Robert credits for saving his life.
Ray Ganiche, a Vietnam Army veteran, was diagnosed with PTSD. He was eventually paired with a service dog. Not long after the two of them become companions, his nightmares and night sweats disappeared. Dazzle, his canine companion wakes Ray as his nightmares begin, and now Ray can finally sleep soundly through the night. Since Dazzle has been in his life, he requires far fewer meds than before she became his canine companion.
Jarrett Gimbl served as a Marine in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was honorably discharged after suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in combat. After six years of serving his country he was severely depressed and suicidal. Jarrett swears that without his dog, he would be dead. The yellow Labrador/hound mix rarely leaves the former Marine’s side.
Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan, an Army intelligence officer who served in Iraq, was injured in the line of duty. Today, he walks with a cane and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. But Luis explains that Tuesday, a Golden Retriever service dog, helped him to shift out of unemployment and the fear of going outside to a new life. He is now the author of “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him“. You can watch their story here.
It’s amazing stuff. Tuesday can anticipate and fend off panic attacks. He senses my breathing patterns and perspiration and then nuzzles me to calm me. He lets me know when it’s time for my medication, and won’t allow me not to take it. And he’ll wake me up if I am having a nightmare. ~ Former Army Captain and decorated war Veteran, Luis Carlos Montalván
If I have a headache, he actually puts his head on my head. If I’m losing my balance, he leans on that leg. He knows everything. ~ Jarrett Gimbl, former U.S. Marine
If it wasn’t for Gunny, I wouldn’t be here. ~ Jarrett Gimbl, former U.S. Marine
My life is slowly coming back to me. I can now can go to the movies without panicking—and I can hug and kiss my two kids. ~ Robert Soliz, former Army Specialist
This post is dedicated to the brave men and women that are so desperately trying to survive their mental and physical wounds of war. Their struggles have been unimaginable, but many of them are winning the internal and physical battle because of a devoted canine companion.
She is my “Battle Buddy”, unlike any other. We call them “Rescue Dogs”, but I have to ask, who is really “RESCUING” who? We now do everything by eye contact, and hand gesture commands. Chloe has brought back some of the life, feeling, and hope that I left behind in the war.
~ Dan Sauer , Former Marine Sergeant
This post is also dedicated to the dogs who come home from war with just as many physical and emotional wounds as their people.
Finally there is a movie that tells the story of war dogs with PTSD …. Have you heard about the new movie, “Max”? Inspired by true events, Max tells of a military dog that is traumatized after his handler’s death in Afghanistan and is sent home where it is adopted by the bereaved family. He bonds with the soldier’s troubled 14-year-old brother, and together, they begin to heal one another and discover a secret about the soldier’s death.
I know few things as beautiful as the heart of a devoted dog.