Veteran explains how a service dog changed his life

Axel can sense when veteran Jason Haag\'s heart rate goes up, wake him from nightmares and help him lead a more normal life. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

WASHINGTON – Marine veteran Capt. Jason Haag is speaking openly about living with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury.

After three tours, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, his physical injuries were healing but his mental ones were not.

He noticed changes in his sleep and an inability to calm down. He says it was a feeling like he couldn’t hit the brakes on a speeding car.

“The first time I got back, our leadership basically told us if you can’t sleep, go have a beer,” Haag says.

He started with a six-pack and he was soon onto medication. He says at one point he was taking 32 pills a day. His self-medication devolved to a point where he cut out everyone in his life.

“I’d been stuck in my basement for two years because I couldn’t leave the house.”

Haag says it was even a struggle to go up the road to the grocery store.

Finally, he reached out for help and found K9s for Warriors, which provided him a trained 7-month old German Shepard, Axel.

“The dogs are training specifically to mitigate mental disabilities like PTSD and TBI,” says Sandi Capra, director of development at K9s for Warriors.

“If a warrior has additional disabilities, the dog can be trained to help with that disability,” she says.

The organization only trains dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD or TBI injuries, Capra says. They do not train dogs for other medical needs like multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries, for example.

Axel can sense when Haag’s heart rate goes up, wake him from nightmares and help him lead a more normal life.

“I want veterans to know there is a place they can go that’s going to save their lives so they don’t turn to the pills, alcohol, to suicide, because we’re losing 26 a day to suicide and that doesn’t need to happen,” Haag says.

Haag will be a guest on the Dr. Katy Nelson show on Channel 8, WTOP’s news partner, on Saturday morning.

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