Dog helps veteran with PTSD

A veteran has been struggling with post traumatic stress disorder for nine years, but a service dog is helping him deal with the disorder.

Marco Vasquez says since returning from Iraq he has not been able to breathe right. He takes short, quick breaths, but thanks to treatment at the Samaritan Center he's breathing better and "Echo" his service dog is a big help as well.

"He comes to my side. I can pet him. He calms me. I know I'm in the present I'm not in Iraq anymore. It's been a long journey because it's been nine years since I've been back from Iraq," said Vasquez.

Something else Echo helps with is doorways. Echo checks them before Vasquez walks through them.

Vasquez's had trouble with doorways ever since an incident when he was clearing building in Fallujah with the 101st Airborne. They were in a building and it was Vasquez's turn to be first thru a door.

"All I saw was someone move their arm and someone hit me in the chest with a bayonet and I had my vest on and it scared me so much I pulled the trigger. I missed but the guy behind me got him. All I remember was flashes because the muzzle was right here on my ear," said Vasquez.

When Vasquez came home he didn't receive the help he needed. He says the VA told him PTSD was a pre-existing condition.

"I know people with PTSD, who live in tents, basements, no phones. They don't come out. They look at a computer as a threat. It affects people in different ways, depression, anxiety, anger and fear," said Vasquez.

Vasquez didn't get help until his wife demanded marriage counseling. Since then it's been talk therapy, bio feedback, and acupuncture.

"When we experience a traumatic event it literally alters the brain alters the neurotransmitters. It changes the hormone level in our brain," said Dr. Shirin Bazaz who treats PTSD. "What the research has shown is if we experience a traumatic event and it isn't processed fully it stays stuck in certain areas of our brain."

She says a type of treatment that's really helping vets is EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It's a complicated and somewhat controversial therapy that uses bilateral stimulation like holding small pods that alternatively vibrate. But if it seems strange, Dr. Bazaz says it works for many to the point where some don't need to come back anymore.

"The way EMDR can be helpful is the way it reprocesses the memories associated with that IED explosion so that we can still remember what they experienced but the emotional impact it had on them changes," said EMDR.

Vasquez hasn't done EMDR yet but he's excited to start. So Echo might go from service animal to pet.

"I didn't know what PTSD was and what it did to my body. It made me stay alert, stay angry. It's in the mind and you actually have to manually threat that symptom," said Vasquez.

Early estimates show that 30 percent of returning troops are dealing with PTSD. The latest studies show the rates are anywhere from 2.1 percent to 13.8 percent. Some of that is attributed to the military working to prevent PTSD.

To learn more about the Samaritan Center click here.

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