a very important act you can take to "support the troops" and help a family in need

Click here to help the Brockway family adopt Buddha! Every donation makes a difference. Every dollar will move them closer to their goal.

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A US veteran commits suicide once every 80 minutes.

In the US, for every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans will die by their own hands. Nicholas Kristof writes:
An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year - more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.
Military suicides are on the rise in Canada, too. The Harper Government, so keen to send Canadians to war, is less enthusiastic about caring for them once they're home.

The Department of National Defence is cutting jobs of professionals involved in suicide prevention and monitoring PTSD.

After exposure to war, PTSD is all but inevitable. Indeed, it should hardly be called a disorder, as it's the natural response to such destruction, chaos, and carnage. (See Dr. J's excellent post about the medicalization of trauma.)

PTSD is inevitable, but suicide is not. PTSD is treatable and for most people, does diminish over time. But PTSD left untreated... that is a different story.

The Brockways, June 2010

I've blogged about the Brockway family several times, but I have not updated their story on wmtc in a very long time. Jeremy Brockway was a US Marine. He volunteered proudly for service in 2005 and served honourably in 2006 and 2007.

Jeremy was forced to participate in some terrible things in Iraq, and he witnessed many more brutal war crimes and horrors. When his anxiety and depression started to surface, he was told it would pass. As his condition worsened, he was given drugs that put him in a zombie-like state.

Jeremy requested a medical leave. It was denied. His application for Conscientious Objector status was shredded in front of him. He was ridiculed and persecuted by the military. Then he was ordered to redeploy. Returning to Iraq, or serving prison time for refusing, surely would have killed him. Instead, he and his young wife Ashlea came to Canada. They now have two children, both born in this country, and are expecting a third child this summer.

Jeremy was a Marine. The Marines' motto is semper fidelis, Latin for Always Faithful. Jeremy took this very seriously. He had great loyalty and great faith in the Marines. But he learned that loyalty was a one-way street.

Jeremy returned from Iraq a changed man, suffering from severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Help through any official channel was closed to him, because he deserted. As Ashlea said in a speaking engagement, "Jeremy has already sacrificed for his country," she said. "He has already served loyally. He can't ever take that back. And now that that sacrifice has been made, the Marines have turned their backs on Jeremy."

This is so often forgotten about war resisters. Many of the resisters are veterans, men and women who followed orders and served honourably. But because the military denies them the right to follow their conscience, their status as veterans is denied, too.

You can read more about Jeremy's story here.

The Brockways today

Right now Ashlea is trying to adopt a service dog for Jeremy. She is working with the Thames Service Dog Centre, a nonprofit organization that rescues dogs from pounds and shelters and trains them for service work. A donation from the War Resisters Support Campaign covered the deposit for the dog. Now the Brockways are trying to raise the remainder of the money.

You might also want to read this excellent feature about a veteran with PTSD and how a service dog is changing her life: "Loyal Companion Helps a Veteran Regain Her Life After War Trauma"

Click here to help the Brockway family adopt Buddha! Every donation makes a difference. Every dollar will move them closer to their goal.

I interviewed Ashlea Brockway about why she wants to adopt the dog, what she hopes to achieve, and how far they've come.

LK: What made you start thinking about getting a service dog for Jeremy?

AB: I knew that there are therapeutic benefits to having a dog or cat. Having the companionship, someone to pet. I wasn't thinking of a service dog in the beginning. I didn't know they had them specifically for PTSD.

LK: You were thinking of getting a dog for the family?

AB: For Jeremy, to help him relax more and have that companionship. I started looking online, and ended up searching "PTSD animals". Senator Al Franken from Minnesota [Ashlea's home state] pushed to get a bill passed to make it easier for veterans to have service dogs. So I knew that there was some kind of connection between veterans and animals, but I didn't know what. I found out that there are specially trained dogs to help with symptoms of PTSD, and they can be trained to do all kinds of different things.

LK: What did you do from there?

AB: I contacted a couple of places that had service dogs, just to get some information. Some charged around $40,000 for a trained service dog. I wasn't sure how to go about getting one, or if there was funding, or anything like that. I contacted two or three different places. The next day, Thames Centre called me back. I never heard back from anyone else.

Thames understands a lot more about PTSD than I've encountered in a lot of people, even home health aides. Home health nurses have said, "Oh, you just need to get out more," when actually going out in public is almost like re-traumatizing him. But Elizabeth Baker from Thames really understands PTSD. She will travel to the servicemember, even if it means she has to get on a plane. Many of the other places said you had to come to their facility for a month or a couple of months. That's difficult for someone with PTSD - to travel, and to be an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. She came here, to our apartment, and brought the dog that she thought would be a good fit for Jeremy.

LK: And that's Buddha, right?

AB: Yes.

LK: Was Buddha a puppy at the time?

AB: He's a young dog, about a year old.

LK: When she came over with the dog, was that part of the training process, training for the dog and also for Jeremy and the family?

AB: At that first meeting, she wanted to see if Jeremy and Buddha would be a good match.

Buddha is a black dog. She had previously brought him to another family, for an autistic child, and the mom was nervous about having a dark dog because it didn't look as friendly. So Elizabeth wanted to make sure I felt comfortable with the dog, and that I wasn't worried about the kids or anything.

Elizabeth has done research with different colours of dogs, and how people perceive them, how approachable people think they are. The lighter the colour of dog, the more approachable people think they are. If a dog is out in public with its person, more people will be interested in and want to pet a lighter dog. Because Buddha is dark-coloured, people will be less likely to approach - which is good for Jeremy. And it's better for Buddha, too, because he can focus on his work with fewer distractions.

LK: What was it like when she brought the dog over for the first time?

AB: She answered a lot of questions and she wanted the whole family involved. Other people had told me that a service dog can't be a family dog -other people in the family aren't supposed to interact with the dog. I was nervous about that, because how do you keep two little kids away from a dog? But when Buddha is at home, he's just like a regular part of the family. Everybody can interact with him, everybody can pet him. At that first meeting, the kids pet him, gave him treats. It was really nice for them.

LK: Were the kids excited about the dog? Did they like him?

AB: William had a bad experience with a dog once, at our apartment building, when he was pretty young. The elevator doors opened and a dog jumped on him and knocked him over. So he's been more reserved towards animals, whereas Wesley completely loves them.

So Wesley [now age 2½] went right up to Buddha and was very happy. But as Beth and Buddha stayed there, William [now age 4] started to get used to it, started to enjoy his company. And finally he was able to give Buddha a treat. Ever since we had that meeting, I've noticed William has been more at ease with animals and other dogs. It's made a big difference.

LK: Tell me about what Buddha will do for Jeremy - what kinds of jobs he will have, how you anticipate Buddha will help Jeremy.

AB: One of the major issues with PTSD is that people have a hard time being grounded - knowing that they are here, in the present, that they're safe, without their mind taking them back to the traumatizing experience. This dog will be trained in something called "deep pressure therapy". He'll push up against Jeremy's legs, pretty much all the time. When they're walking outside in public, or when they're home together, he will be pushing on Jeremy, and that physical feeling will help Jeremy focus and be present, help ground him.

Also, Buddha will sleep in the same room as Jeremy. If Jeremy starts to have a night terror, Buddha will help to wake Jeremy, and then he'll crawl up onto Jeremy and provide the deep pressure therapy - and be there for support, so Jeremy can pet Buddha to help himself calm down.

Out in public, Jeremy can feel overwhelmed. And if you're overwhelmed and in a crowd, everything can go blurry, and you can start to have a panic attack. Buddha will be trained with a one-word command, to find a route out of the crowd, and lead Jeremy to a place that's quiet, so Jeremy can get refocused and calm down.

Service dogs do other things for people with PTSD may not apply to Jeremy. Some people are really hypervigilant. They want to check the perimeter of their house all the time. The dog can be trained to do that, or to clear a room for people who are afraid that people are hiding. I don't think Buddha will be trained to do that, because I don't think those are Jeremy's issues. But it is a possibility if Jeremy feels that is something he needs.

Buddha is a fully trained service dog. He'll have a certificate, and he'll wear the vest. It's like a guide dog - he can go anywhere in public, restaurants, all of that. A therapy dog stays at home and works only in the therapy settings. But Buddha will go everywhere with Jeremy. We're actually not allowed to leave him at home. He'll be with Jeremy constantly.

LK: It sounds like you and Jeremy have a lot invested in getting a service dog.

AB: Yes, we do. In the past, doctors told him PTSD is a chronic condition and he will never get better. It always made me so angry to hear that. How can you possibly say that to someone? That just sucks all the hope out of your life.

LK: But even chronic conditions can get better and become livable.

AB: And it was especially painful at the time they were saying this. We're a lot better now than we were a year ago. But when we were hearing this from a doctor, it was in the darkest of times. He had made no progress. And then you hear that it's going to be permanent! It was devastating.

LK: You said things have gotten better over the past year. Is there anything in particular you attribute that to?

AB: After I did my speaking engagements, Bruce Beyer from Buffalo arranged for us to meet Dr. William Cross, a psychiatrist and a therapist. Dr. Cross was a Vietnam War veteran, and came back with PTSD, and he overcame it, and when on to become a psychiatrist. He does family and relationship counseling.

Bruce brought Dr. Cross to Ontario to meet us. And since then, we've been doing counseling sessions by Skype for almost a year and a half now. We speak with him every week. We've done one-on-one counseling with him, and also couples counseling, because there's a lot of communication difficulties. He talks to each of us every-other week, we switch off. Dr. Cross has done all this for free. He doesn't charge us at all. This has made the hugest difference in our lives. Before, we were in this black hole, feeling that we might never get out. It was very dark. Now we feel like we've overcome the worst of it. There were times when we didn't know if we'd make it. Now we know we've already made it, and it will keep getting better. It's still hard, there are issues, but we no longer question whether we will even make it.

Dr. Cross has done all this for free. He doesn't charge us at all.

LK: How do you feel about adopting Buddha?

AB: I am very hopeful. Through this whole ordeal, whenever we talked about it, Jeremy has often said, "It's going to take a miracle to make me better. Only a miracle will get me out of this." After the first time we met Buddha, Jeremy told me that maybe this dog is his miracle. That really had an impact on me. It made me think this is what Jeremy needs and will respond to.

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Jeremy has been given an incentive and a challenge. If he can walk, alone, from their apartment to the end of the street, every day, Buddha will come to live with the Brockways at the end of May. Then Jeremy and Buddha will begin advanced training together.

If you are able, please help us give Buddha a permanent home with the Brockways, and give Jeremy Brockway the opportunity to heal.

Click here to help the Brockway family adopt Buddha! Every donation makes a difference. Every dollar will move them closer to their goal.

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