by Tony Seahorn
by Janet & Tony Seahorn
It was a small, black & white, furry 5-pound bundle of emotional and physical relief. His name was Petie, the keeper of an adult warrior, Purple Heart, Vietnam Veteran.
The vet trained him as his first alert. An important task. Petie knew when his master needed to take his medications. He would wakeup Dennis at various times in the middle of the night so that specific pills were administered at the most critical time in order to keep the Post Traumatic Stress under control.
Dennis trained Petie especially for this purpose. They are best friends and constant companions, never apart. This small, furry medic is essential, not just for the vet’s physical well-being, but even more important, his emotional/mental stability.
Petie alerts Dennis when there is danger in the surroundings. He watches intently everything that goes on with his owner and around his owner. If Petie isn’t comfortable his master knows to pay closer attention to his current environment. If Petie doesn’t like you, more than likely Dennis isn’t going to become too friendly either.
They coexist, two different species, one functioning entity.
There are numerous organizations that train service dogs. Dogs that serve the deaf, blind, and epileptic individual. Dogs that act as the arms and legs of those who no longer have capacity to move on their own. Now, some of these groups are training dogs to do something even more challenging, knowing when their owner may go into a PTSD anxiety attack.
The dog must sense when such attacks may occur before they actually manifest themselves. They know even before the person that something is coming on – giving their owner an opportunity to breathe, use relaxation techniques, and take medication if necessary. They provide a sense of security and well-being in a world filled with unpredictability and potential stressors.
One such training organization is NEADS – Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans.
They are conducting an in-depth study of nine-ten Iraq vets who has severe PTSD. The study’s focus is to evaluate the most effective canine training methods that serve the sensitive needs of a veteran suffering from combat stress.
This is a very expensive and challenging research project because it must take into account the behaviors of two very different organisms: human and canine.
It will be a critical piece of information given the increasing number of individuals returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters and those that have served in past wars such as Vietnam and the Gulf War.
by Tony Seahorn
Even in the most devastating and pain-filled moments, we have an opportunity to learn something about ourselves, our world, and the human spirit.
Attending the Purple Heart National Convention in Rogers, Arkansas provided an enormous volume of proof supporting this statement. The group was a moving, living sea of purple where great amounts of blood was given in service to our country. Veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and a few from the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan attended.
It is the Vietnam veteran, however, who have provided evidence of how to do things differently when welcoming a warrior home from combat. These vets had no “welcome home”. Their experience of returning from combat was often met with verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Crowds of protesters were waiting to hurl insults and thoughtlessly displayed signs/banners with obscene language and incredibly cruel remarks and pictures.
What Vietnam vets taught Americans through their touching stories were how badly they were injured – not just by the enemy in a foreign land, but by their own country men. The wound to the soldier was deeper, more personal. It bled into the heart and soul of the veteran and couldn’t heal. Healing requires exposure to the light, the outside air. The Vietnam vets were forced to suppress not only their sacrifice, but their woundedness.
With our present battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans have rallied for a new mission, a promise that never again would our military personnel return home unwelcome. Today there are a multitude of individuals and organizations who support, care and offer hope to serving military members as well as their families. At the Purple Heart Convention we met a few. The “Soldier’s Angels” were there to ensure every military person serving in a combat zone receives care packages, cards, and letters from their fellow Americans. “Quilting for Valor” is another group who painstakingly create beautiful hand-crafted quilts to send to hospitals both in-country and overseas. These quilts cover and comfort the wounded warrior during his/her hospitalization.
And there were others with their own caring mission.
Vietnam veterans taught Americans how words can wound deeper than guns. How lack of support impairs the ability to move forward. And most of all, how to forgive – their country’s leaders, their country men/women, and sometimes even their own families – because they understand that forgiveness heals.
The significant lesson these past warriors, in their aging wisdom learned, then modeled, was the power of absolution, which granted freedom from their emotional woundedness. Then, through such forgiveness, they have and continue to work tirelessly with the American people and the military to meet the needs of the new combat wounded.
America’s new Purple Hearts hopefully feel only the love, support, and generosity of an America who will never again allow our sons and daughters to return home from combat unwelcome.