Only time will tell how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are viewed by history, but one thing is certain – an alarming number of young men and women have risked everything in defense of their nation and many have returned with the scars to prove it. Unfortunately, not all scars are visible, and the frequent back-to-back deployments have taken a mental toll as well. PTSD sufferers are often forced to face the same trials and obstacles as any wounded veteran but without the outward signs that anything is wrong. The key to surviving this invisible disability is a strong support network, and maybe even a dog.
Carl Ringberg joined the U.S. Army in the summer of 2001, just prior to the attacks which would lead our nation into the longest wars of its history. Like so many other service members, the coming years would see Carl deployed multiple times – Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003. After leaving the service, he did what millions of soldiers before him have done – he became a civilian again, eventually finding a job, getting married and even becoming a father to twins. Unfortunately, Carl was wounded by his time overseas and didn’t even know it. Like so many others, Carl was suffering from PTSD, although it was almost a year and a half before that diagnosis was be made.
The fact that Carl was diagnosed with PTSD does not make him any different than many of his brothers and sisters in arms. Neither does that fact that his disability led to problems adjusting to being home and even divorce. What makes Carl’s story stand out is what he did about it. Carl became part of a pilot program pairing PTSD sufferers with assistance K-9s. Due to the fact that he served during the early years of the war, many of today’s programs were not yet available, so he took to the internet and then took matters into his own hands by contacting various assistance dog programs looking for the help he needed.
Eventually Carl made contact with Minnesota-based Helping Paws and was paired with Jed, a Golden Retriever assistance dog. Together Carl & Jed became the first Helping Paws PTSD Graduate Team. After three years, Carl & Jed are constant companions – living, traveling and even working together. I had the privilege to talk to Carl about his experience, and he said that being paired with Jed allowed him to get his life back. He explained that after leaving the Army, he felt lost. He had become accustomed to the routine – the feeling he was part of a team and suddenly found himself not knowing what to do. He didn’t know what he would do for employment, didn’t know where to turn for help and didn’t know (yet) that he was suffering from PTSD. Not only would this damage his personal relationships, but it also led to difficulty managing public places, crowds and even grocery shopping. He credits Jed with changing that.
PTSD assistance dogs are trained to not only provide companionship – which has its own therapeutic value – but to also perform tasks designed to relieve the veteran’s anxiety. Jed acts as a barrier in crowds, allowing Carl some personal space. He also turns on lights and “clears” rooms by entering first, wakes and comforts him during nightmares and provides a comforting touch during periods of stress. Carl called Jed his “security blanket.” I used another term – a 24-hour best friend.
Of course, having an assistance dog is only one piece of the recovery puzzle, and Carl was also quick to point out that seeking help and having a support network is vital. He credits his employer, Waste Management, with being an important part of that network. He told me that Waste Management was supportive from the very beginning – from the moment he mentioned Jed during his initial interview. Carl (and Jed) now oversees 12 technicians and operations associates who maintain 84 trucks as a senior district fleet manager in the Burnsville, MN Waste Management facility.
Carl hopes that others will benefit from assistance dogs such as Jed and helps to spread the word and even performs the in person interviews of applicants hoping to receive their own dog. He also helps other veterans find civilian employment with a company that understands their needs by taking Jed to local Veteran Hiring Fairs and other hiring events, hoping to find the next perfect fit for Waste Management.
Good luck Carl & Jed, and thank you to Helping Paws and Waste Management for helping those suffering from PTSD one vet at a time!
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.