His first-hand reflections were candid and eye-opening…for anyone who hasn’t lived with a veteran whose daily living is governed by his or her ability to cope with their PTSD. As the wife of a veteran with PTSD, Ron’s reflections were both a bitter reminder of the far-reaching damage of PTSD left untreated and a fond memory of our first real sign of hope for our family.
After nearly 20 years of USMC and U.S. Army service, Ron had been medically retired, and honestly, I didn’t know how things were going to turn out. It was a low point for him because he thought that given his experience finding a new job and new path in the civilian world would be easy…and it wasn’t. He was applying for all kinds of jobs, mostly office jobs because of physical limitations he was under, and he wasn’t getting past an initial interview. So he was lost. He didn’t know who he was any more.
The stress of transitioning to civilian life with the PTSD amped up his anger. It became explosive. I remember one time when our youngest son, Lane, was in the fourth grade…Now obviously kids spill things; kids break things…This one time he tripped and accidentally unplugged the cord to Ron’s laptop, there was this huge uproar. Ron screamed at him: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHY AREN’T YOU PAYING ATTENTION?”
It was scary. Everyone had to walk on egg shells around Ron and we didn’t know what was going to trigger that explosive anger, which is a symptom of PTSD. His sleep was so erratic that more often than not I slept on the couch. It was safer that way, because without sleep, Ron would become more irritable and potentially even dangerous.
Granted, Ron was on a lot of meds. But he wasn’t getting better; he was getting worse. Every time he went to the VA doctor, the “remedy” was just more and more–more vitamins; more narcotics; more pain meds; more antipsychotics…
Ron got fed up and stopped taking them. And when he got off all the narcotics he started drinking more. There were times when he’d go completely overboard and you can’t argue with someone who is heavily intoxicated.
I wondered…Are we going to survive this? At the time, I had serious doubts. Around this time, I told Ron I wanted a dog. After much back and forth, he gave in when we met Sophia, who won him over with that certain something. She was just 5 weeks old at the time.
Since I was working full-time, and we had a puppy that could not be left unsupervised, Sophia become Ron’s responsibility and he took this responsibility seriously. At our son’s soccer games, for example, Ron always made sure she had plenty of water, snacks, and that she wasn’t going onto the soccer field to get the ball (she loved chasing balls even then). He was so focused on Sophia and her well-being that he didn’t mind all the noise around him (like all the grown men standing behind him hollering at their kids), which, under normal circumstances, would have been a bad thing.
That got my attention, and really got me thinking…
A few days later as we were walking into a Walmart and he was acting all panicky. I said, ‘You know, you don’t get like this when Sophia is with us.’ He agreed.
I had seen firsthand how a service dog assisted a veteran at a VA hospital in Washington, but I didn’t know exactly what the dog did or how it was trained. I said ‘Maybe we can try and find a place that does this.’
Ron said ‘What dog trainer do we start with?’ and right there in the parking lot was an orange and black Honda Element and across the back in white lettering it said “STILLWATER DOG TRAINING.”
We called them and left a message. By the time we had gotten to the door, Mary Peter, the dog trainer and owner, called me back. We arranged that day to meet her. When we arrived, an hour later, Ron refused to get out of the car.
I said “I’m trying to help you…but if you do not want help then our marriage will end.”
He replied, “Did you just say our marriage will end?”
I answered, “That’s where we’re headed.”
That was the kick in the butt that Ron needed.
When we first brought Sophia in, Sophia was completely out of control, barking and freaking out. Mary said, “If we can’t get Sophia socialized, she will not make it.” That challenge pushed Ron. He stuck with it and listened and trained Sophia exactly as instructed. It was a slow but steady progression for both.
As for the progression at home, it was remarkable. The kids would come home from school and Ron would actually talk to them. He would ask them simple things that he never used to, like ‘How was your day?’ ‘Do you have a lot of homework tonight?’ Conversations were happening, engagement was happening. There was a sense of curiosity and a thoughtful interest there that hadn’t been there previously.
The kids got their father back. And I got my husband back.
Sophia, now four years old, is our “Magic Pill.”
Kellie Flaville is the office manager for K9 Partners for Patriots, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans with PTSD, TBI and MST by teaching them how to train and care for their own service dog. Her husband, Ron, is the first veteran to complete the K9P4P training program. A veteran liaison and Certified Dog Trainer (CDT), he was promoted this year to COO.