(18) Dogs Are Transparent: The truth about invisible disabilities

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly:

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)

Dogs are transparent like Scotch Tape or plastic wrap. Their tails project their moods. The temperature of a dog’s nose reveals his state of health. I suppose this makes dogs the perfect companion to a veteran with PTSD, TBI, or other invisible disabilities.

My disabled veteran and I married 21 years ago. I am his full-time caregiver. With too many visits to count accompanying him to VA medical facilities, I know that disabled veterans hide their feelings and rarely share their war history with anyone other than each other. Even then, the stories must be coaxed from them in a safe setting.

Homecoming for Vietnam veterans brought protests, heckling, spitting, and other rebellious acts against our returning warriors. They reeled from the hostile reception, which drove them deeper into themselves. They already struggled with the effects of jungle warfare in the bush of a brutal entanglement. Returning home, they found rejection at the hands of their country, families, and friends.

No wonder Vietnam veterans committed suicide after returning from war in numbers greater than those killed during the war. Those who survived came home to fight another war–within themselves, driving them deeper into despair.

While my research focuses on PTSD and Vietnam, I am meeting young men and women returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and early signs of PTSD. On the transparency scale of one to ten with the dog transparency at a 10 and Vietnam veteran’s transparency at a 1, these young people fall around a 5 or 6. As I talk with them about their lives, the one thing I hear consistently is, “My wife/husband doesn’t think there is anything wrong with me. He/she thinks I’m making this up.”

It took years for me to understand how PTSD manifested in my husband’s life—especially since he refused to talk about it. I learned more from his nightmares than I did from his story telling. Recently, when I suggested that sharing his story might help others, he waded into the pain of reminiscing about his past.

What I found sheds light on comments by young soldiers and veterans that their spouses do not believe there is a problem.

When William returned from war, there was no such diagnosis as PTSD. The symptoms he exhibited were either ignored by doctors or chastised as character flaws. His failure to keep a job, mood swings, and use of drugs labeled him as a deviant. Even a judge and his doctors typecast him as a malingerer.

Fortunately, for our young veterans, PTSD is a legitimate diagnosis with many forms of treatment. Nonetheless, it remains mostly invisible except for the symptoms, which might appear to a spouse or others as human frailty or personality flaws. TBI tops the list of invisible, debilitating maladies with non-reversible damage that often leaves the veteran with limited ability to drive, work, sleep, or function without pain.

As our Vietnam veterans know, PTSD and TBI are real and they affect those returning from combat in ways that make daily living difficult.

Even with as much as I understand PTSD, Molly understands it better.Molly snuggles with William She anticipates William’s moods and knows when an anxiety or panic attack approaches. A well-placed paw, nuzzling with her nose, or just being close to William helps calm him.

One young soldier with TBI shared with me that his German shepherd stands between him and giving up.

“My dog believes me that my problems are real even if my wife doesn’t.”

Although a spouse, a judge, or society may deny your disability, a loyal pet will not. Not only will she anticipate your need for support, she will give you her unconditional love . . . along with a wet nose and a kind paw.

Post your Comments:

What does your dog do to show you unconditional love? Please comment below.

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her husband, William, and dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

2 thoughts on “(18) Dogs Are Transparent: The truth about invisible disabilities

  1. Tina Young

    My Golden Retriever KC meets me at the door ready to share her favorite toy. No matter how long I’ve been gone or what mood I am in when I return home, she is happy to be with me.

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