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Been there, and fighting it: Veteran's Recognition event will focus on PTSD

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By Tracy Harris

Many of America’s heroes are coming home and fighting a silent battle of their own — a battle many won’t acknowledge and can go undiagnosed and untreated for years.

Post-tramautic stress — commonly known as PTSD — is being diagnosed in soldiers at increasingly higher rates. Many organizations are opting to drop “disorder” from the title to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness.

It is likely not that more soldiers are experiencing PTS, but that the U.S. military has started paying more attention to it.

La Grange resident Albert Harrison, a Vietnam veteran, hopes to draw attention to the issue at his Veterans’ Recognition event next week.

Harrison organizes the annual event, now in its seventh year.

This year’s topic is “Wounded Warriors — heroes with battle scars but no bandages.”

The event will focus on PTS and will be highlighted by guest speaker Mike Jeffrey.

Jeffrey served two tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army, returning home from the second tour in 2006.

In Iraq, he was nearly killed twice by explosions. He returned to his home in Rineyville with mental and physical injuries.

For several years, he struggled with PTS. It became an obstacle for him and his wife, Shelly.

Then he got a puppy.

Shelly located a trainer in Florida who specializes in training canines for veterans to use as service dogs.

Trainer Mike Halley started the organization with his wife, Pam, in 2008 after his own experiences with service dogs.

Halley, a Vietnam veteran, spent nearly a decade struggling with PTS before finding a solution.

One day, his sister came into his bedroom, handed him a Doberman pinscher and told him to figure out what to do with the dog, Halley said.

Halley said that first dog required him to leave the house and helped ease his anxiety, but it wasn’t until he adopted Porsche, his second Doberman, that he realized he could help other veterans, too.

As of March 2012, Halley and his wife have paired 55 service dogs with veterans from 24 to 87 years old.

In June, a rescued Doberman pinscher named Seal Team joined the Jeffreys family in Rineyville.

Already, Jeffrey is noticing a difference by having a full-fledged service dog who accompanies him nearly everywhere.

Before Seal Team, Jeffrey struggled being in crowds — even the grocery store presented a problem. 

Now, Jeffrey is back to shopping and running errands without fear of a flashback or anxiety attack.

While many veterans are hesitant to speak about their trauma — often because they fear being labeled as mentally ill — Jeffrey hopes to spread the word that there is hope and help for others facing a similar battle.

Harrison thinks it’s a message many veterans — and their families — need to hear. 

The Veterans’ Recognition event is free and scheduled 5-7 p.m. Aug. 9 at the John W. Black Community Center.