The Foxhole: PTSD is a life-changing event

There has been much written and spoken about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the last few years. I would like to share my brother’s story.

Billy was a good-looking boy, blue-eyed and blond curls that attracted the ladies of all ages. He was a bit shy until he got to know you, but then he would literally give you the shirt off his back to help you. He worked hard, had fun whenever possible and just enjoyed life.

I think he always knew he wanted to join the military when he was old enough. With a dad who was a marine in Korea, an uncle who fought on Iwo Jima, another uncle who was an Airborne Ranger in Korea, he was hooked. At 18, he enlisted in the Army, went to basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Benning, Ga., and became an infantryman. He excelled wherever he went and loved being a soldier. From there he served in Texas and West Germany, until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Billy deployed with the 24th Infantry Division to the desert.

When the fighting was over and he eventually returned to his wife, son and two girls, something was different. He was quiet, drank to excess, tried to carry on as a father and husband, brother and son, and continue his mission of being “the best he could be” as a soldier. Eventually the drinking got him in trouble, he was honorably discharged from the Army. He divorced, retained custody of his two girls, but always looked for help in caring for them, whether it was his father, or one of his two brothers. Even friends of the family helped; however, Billy was not my brother anymore.

I finally secured a promise from him to go to the Veterans Administration (VA), where he was diagnosed with PTSD. Receiving counseling to help him start on a path to peace and acceptance of himself, it was slow going. Yet even with all the help, he was still very uncomfortable in a crowd, didn’t go out, preferring to stay home with his children or family. On a family visit to the Statue of Liberty, which my niece Katie very much wanted to visit, her father took the train with us, but it was an hour of pure torture for him in that crowded car. He survived, but just barely.

Three years ago, a very good friend of his, also a PTSD-diagnosed Vietnam vet, suggested he find a service dog for PTSD veterans. Billy did, and the world changed literally overnight. Apache, a mixed Husky/Malamute male dog, has been a blessing. Billy is still uncomfortable in crowds, but Apache can sense this and immediately rubs against Billy’s leg to let him know to calm down. It’s amazing to watch this dynamic.

For anyone who is affected by, or knows someone else affected by, PTSD, an excellent source of information can be found at

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