Friday, December 11, 2009

Revolutionary PTSD Intervention Program Helps Marine Erase PTSD, TBI Symptoms

Terry Henry, The paws4vets Advocate
Morgantown, WV
For Printable Version, Click Here

April 2009; Meet Sgt. Paul Martin, USMC. Kyria, the Founder and Deputy Executive Director, paws4people and the Executive Director, paws4prisons further recounted the visit; “Paul sat in a chair across from me, he avoided eye contact, he stared at the ground and maybe once answered a question with more than one word – it was surreal.” During the hour-long interview it was learned the Sgt. Martin had been at VA Martinsburg for a little over three months, had not done very well during his first three-month PTSD Therapy Counseling Program, and was in the process of re-taking the course. He was on a “cocktail” of six or seven different medications, spent most of his time thinking about his combat experiences, having auditory hallucinations, was extremely depressed and didn’t like his counseling sessions. The only diversion he had was TV and he didn’t like it much. He was “stuck” in the hospital since he didn’t have a car and even if he did he could not drive due to the medications he was taking. “I remember walking away from that experience saying – “I don’t know if he is ready to take care of a dog, I don’t know how much it will help,” Kyria said. To which, Terry Henry, Executive Director, paws4vets, said back to her, “That’s exactly what Paul needs.”

Fast-forward, November 2009; Meet Sgt. Paul Martin, USMC: “I am doing GREAT – for the first time since I got back (from his last tour in Iraq) I have gone a week without any symptoms – it’s wonderful and it’s all because of her,” said Sgt. Paul Martin, as he patted LIA, his future Psychiatric Service Dog on her head. “If it wasn’t for her I’d still be back at the Battalion eating all of those pills,” Paul continued. Sgt. Martin had just finished his third week of transfer training with LIA, a 20-month-old Black Labrador Retriever. Paul was sitting in a crowded restaurant with LIA at his feet. Paul was smiling, laughing, at times, and carrying on a conversation with the other four people at the table. “He’s like a totally a different person, if I hadn’t witnessed his transformation over the past four months there is NO way I would have ever believed it possible,” said Heidi Livengood, Chief Trainer, paws4prisons, USP Hazelton. The paws4prisons training facility in Bruceton Mills, WV is where Paul and LIA are going through their transfer training. Paul further described the adventures he and LIA had had during the week. They had visited a second grade classroom and he and LIA had read to the children. They had visited a Cub Scout Pack meeting where he told the Cub Scouts about LIA and answered “hundreds” of questions about being a Marine. He and LIA had visited a state park and had hiked for hours through the woods. “You know – I surprised myself by having so much fun – it’s been a long time,“ said Paul. When asked if he thought he would ever be able to talk in front of a group of kids like he did, he simply answered, “No, but I can do anything with LIA.”

Sgt. Martin’s Story: Paul Martin was eighteen when he enlisted in the Marines in 2003. Sgt. Martin has served three combat tours, in 2004-2005 (7 months), 2005-2006 (6 months) and 2007 (7 months). “I spent my three deployments in some of the roughest places in Iraq and lost a lot. During my first deployment, I lost my squad leader, Sgt. J.D. Patterson; he was a father figure to me. He made me the man I am today. He was taken from us on January 15th, 2005; I struggle with his death every day,” related Paul. “Since my first deployment, I have been dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, auditory hallucinations, environmentally induced anxiety and anxiety/panic attacks, depression, agoraphobia and extreme survivor guilt. I have attempted suicide three times due to my bewildering symptoms. Due to my symptoms and their frequency, I have had trouble making and keeping friends and experience a lot of stress in relationships.”

Sgt. Martin was eventually transferred to the Wounded Warrior Battalion - East at Camp Lejeune, NC, in order to concentrate on the treatment of his PTSD. Since his assignment to the WWB, he has participated in many different treatment programs and protocols. In January 2009, he was transferred to the PTSD Center at the VA Medical Center (VAMC) – Martinsburg, in Martinsburg, WV. Here he spent five-and-one-half months. During his treatment at VAMC Martinsburg, Paul realized that he needed additional help in coping with and managing my PTSD symptoms. “Thanks to the encouragement and help of my Case Manger at Camp Lejeune, I started researching Service Dog Placement for Veterans with PTSD and found paws4vets,” said Paul.

Sgt. Martin submitted an application, was interviewed at VAMC Martinsburg and was subsequently accepted as a paws4vets Client to receive a Psychiatric Service Dog.

paws4vets has its own capability to link with its Client’s medical and psychological treatment teams,” said Mrs. Allison Kaminsky, B.S.N, R.N., Director, Medical Evaluation Team (MET), paws4vets. “This unique capability allows paws4vets to more completely understand our Client’s needs and limitations. It allows us the ability to customize not only their transfer training required to master the skills to effectively utilize their new Service Dog; but it also allows us the ability to leverage that dog’s motivational capabilities to the benefit of the Client and their interaction(s) with their VA or Military medical and/or psychological treatment teams,” continued Allison.

Through this collaborative effort, Sgt. Martin’s medical and psychological treatment protocols and methodologies at Camp Lejeune were modified such that his compliance and participation earned him the ability to visit LIA in WV. Simple and -- in Sgt. Martin’s case -- very effective.

Sgt. Martin first met LIA during his first visit to the paws4prisons K-9 Training Facility at the Federal Prison Camp, U. S. Penitentiary Hazelton, Bruceton Mills, WV. paws4prisons, like paws4vets are programs which are part of the paws4people foundation ( The paws4people foundation privately places trained, certified and insured Assistance Dogs (AD) with persons with disabilities. These dogs are placed with individuals with physical, neurological, psychological and/or emotional disabilities. The paws4people foundation places Assistance Dogs with civilians (generally adolescents under the age of fourteen) through it paws4people Assistance Dog Placement Program (p4pADPP) and with Veterans, active-duty military and/or their dependants through its paws4vets ( Assistance Dog Placement Program (p4vADPP). All paws4people Assistance Dogs are trained by federal inmates within one of five federal prisons ( paws4people is also a member of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program’s (AW2) Community Support Network.

Sgt. Martin’s first visit took place during the last days of his stay at VAMC Martinsburg. Paul was completely under the influence of his “cocktail.” He was able to spend about an hour meeting and interacting with LIA. “The first time I met LIA was only for a few minutes but I recall being asked if I liked LIA and I said “No, I love her,” recounts Paul, “I felt a bond with LIA immediately.”

Sgt. Martin returned to the WWB at Camp Lejeune and within a week attempted suicide for the third time. This of course landed Sgt. Martin in the Psychiatric Ward at the Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune -- the exact place he did not want to be. During the subsequent teleconference meetings between the paws4vets MET and Sgt. Martin’s Camp Lejeune medical and psychological treatment team, it was decided to try the following strategy with Sgt. Martin: Sgt. Martin was to be told, by his Camp Lejeune treatment team, that if he abided by all of his treatment teams’ requests and did not try to commit suicide again during the next three weeks, he would be allowed to go to West Virginia to visit LIA. The paws4vets MET would send staff to Camp Lejeune who would meet with Sgt. Martin and in essence tell him the same thing, thus reinforcing the treatment strategy. Sgt. Martin not only met the requirements of this treatment strategy, he exceeded the expectations of both treatment teams.

Sgt. Martin’s TAD orders were issued and accompanied by his mother (who drove Paul, since Paul could not drive himself due to the medications he was taking) they arrived in Morgantown in late August 2009. Under the tutelage of the paws4prisons staff -- Kyria Henry and Heidi Livengood -- Paul was re-introduced to LIA and over the proceeding week was taught the art and skill of Assistance Dog handling. He began to learn LIA’s language and her 100+ commands. He learned to handle her in the seclusion of his hotel room and its parking lot and then watched Kyria and Heidi as they handled LIA in public venues such as restaurants, retail stores and a movie theater. “After spending a week with LIA and the staff of paws4vets, I have a new found sense of purpose as well as something to look forward to being involved with,” said Paul, “With someone to keep me moving and proactive, like LIA, I know that my life and the quality of my life are going to be up and on the rise.”

Paul was sent back to Camp Lejeune with very simple instructions (which were pre-approved via coordination between the paws4vets MET and Sgt. Martin’s Camp Lejeune treatment team). His instructions were: Cooperate completely and enthusiastically with your Camp Lejeune treatment team, try to decrease your meds, and don’t try to commit suicide during the next three-four weeks. Accomplish this, and you can come back for your second week of transfer training with LIA.

Well, Sgt. Martin once again surprised both treatment teams and exceeded expectations. Sgt. Martin was once again issued TAD orders and returned to Morgantown in early October for his second week of transfer training with LIA. He was re-introduced to handling LIA under the watchful eyes of Kyria and Heidi. On the second day Paul was told to take LIA to the local WalMart by himself. Unknown to him, others were watching just in case. Paul and LIA proceeded to have a wonderful time walking up and down the aisles. Paul reported that after a few minutes of indecision on LIA’s part, he was able to refocus her attention and she worked perfectly for him the rest of his visit. Paul seemed quite pleased with himself and LIA. Paul worked the rest of the week alone with LIA, taking her to stores, walks on downtown streets, to restaurants, parks, malls, etc. His confidence and personality both seemed to grow and return. At the end of the week, Sgt. Martin received the same instructions (under the same auspices) as he had at the end of his previous training session with LIA: Cooperate completely and enthusiastically with your Camp Lejeune treatment team, try to decrease your meds, and don’t try to commit suicide during the next three-four weeks. Accomplish this and you can come back for your third week of transfer training with LIA.

The month at Camp Lejeune can only be described as incredible. Sgt. Martin was like a “new” person, commented several of his treatment team. He significantly reduced his medications, with his treatment team’s guidance and approval. He was provided with TAD orders this time for both VA and WV. LIA was transferred from WV to the paws4vets offices just outside Leesburg, VA.

“I simply could not believe my eyes,” said Allison Kaminsky, “he was driving a car.” Paul met Allison for a day of training which consisted of visiting an elementary school and a Cub Scout Pack. “It simply warmed my heart when I saw Paul and LIA reunited, it was something quite special,” remembered Allison. Paul related to Allison that he was off his medications with the exception of sleep aids, and only if he needed them. “He was full of life, talked and talked, and you should have seen him with the kids!” she said. Paul visited Hillsboro Elementary School, Hillsboro, VA, where he and LIA read to the students of a second grade class. “I was so proud of LIA,” said Paul, after the reading session was completed. Later that day after taking LIA to the outlet mall, Paul and LIA visited Cub Scout Pack 961, Den 8 at the Round Hill Elementary School, Round Hill, VA. Here Paul and LIA were the “stars” of the show, and Paul displayed untold patience as he answered “hundreds” of questions from the Cub Scouts about LIA and being a Marine. It was an experience that neither the Cub Scouts not Paul will soon forget.

Paul and LIA then transited to Morgantown where he was one of five guests-of-honor at a dinner hosted by the paws4prisons training staff. Paul and LIA sat in a very crowded restaurant at a table with 30+ other people and engaged in conversation, laughing and smiling the whole time. Afterwards, when asked if he would have been able to attend such a dinner a few months ago, Paul replied, “I could not have done it without LIA by my side, but we did it and I had a good time.”

Paul and LIA are currently scheduled for their fifth and final transfer training week in Morgantown beginning December 7th. Outside of a few interactions with paws4prisons training staff he and LIA will actually be on their own for most of the week (except for “secret” checks by trainers along the way).

Shortly after the new year, and as soon as the WWB East schedules Paul’s “home visit” and Command briefing LIA will be transferred to Camp Lejeune to begin what is hoped to be a long and successful working relationship with Sgt. Paul Martin, USCM.

© 2009, paws4people, All Rights Reserved.

Disclosure: The author, Terry Henry is the Executive Director, paws4people and the Executive Director, paws4vets. He is a Veteran and has been living with the effects of Complex-PTSD for the past 24 years.

To learn more about Sgt. Martin, click here:

To help Sgt. Martin help other active-duty military and/or Veterans receive an Assistance Dog, click here:

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