(19) From Dog House to Safe House: Caregiving for a Veteran with PTSD

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly:

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

William fought for his life for three years, battling a series of pulmonary emboli, resulting from surgery to reconstruct his foot with a 15-inch cadaver tendon. His foot injury from Vietnam 48 years earlier required five surgeries after the war. With surgery number four and the onslaught of blood clots, I finally left my profession and cared for him full-time.

Up until the fourth surgery, his VA diagnosis for PTSD compensated him at 50 percent. Following the fourth surgery with negligence by a VA physician, the VA changed his status to 100 percent PTSD with partial loss of a lung, adding an additional disability of 60 percent. (Compensation is limited to 100 percent even though he rates at 160 percent disabled.)

Coping with PTSD pushes a veteran to the limit. Adding loss of vital organs or appendages leaves the veteran drowning in a quagmire of raw emotion.

While I managed to care for my husband in the first three years of his foot surgeries with strength and aplomb, by year four, my grace faded and anger erupted with little provocation. My husband found himself in the doghouse on more than one occasion for simple things I made a habit to ignore before.

As my temper flared, his PTSD chewed away more of his life.

A quarrelsome wife is so annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day. Stopping her complaints is like trying to stop the wind or trying to hold something with greased hands.

Proverbs 27:15-16

One of his mental health counselors recommended we create a safe house for him—a place with soothing music, a water fountain, and pleasant aromas.

William dismissed the need for a safe house or a safe room but cooperated as I slowly converted our den into a safe room. We bought an oversized reclining chair and a big screen television to start the conversation. Adding scented candles and a misting water fountain, he accepted the room as a safe place where he manages his PTSD. I vowed not to go in the room when I am short-tempered.

We arranged his room with the chair backed into one corner so his safe room became a defensible, personal space. MollyWilliam and Molly in the safe room spends her days with William in this special place.

The safe room arrangement works. William and Molly no longer spend time in the doghouse. Instead, they spend hours passing the time together in the comfort of William’s safe house.

Additional ideas for a safe room/house

I stumbled across a cool website to help veterans with PTSD at www.helpguide.org/mental/veterans-ptsd-recovery.htm. It gives advice on “Creating a safe place.” The article suggested, “. . .the safe place should be secure, private location with limited access . . . . or it could be a corner of your back yard or an isolated spot outdoors.” The place should be where interruptions are limited, clean, calm with no paperwork or unfinished projects. The veteran should add items that will help him/her relax such as plants, photos of loved ones, special memorabilia. Finding something positive representing all five senses will help. If no physical place is available, the article suggested that you create that safe place in your mind, filling it with things that make you feel secure.

Post your Comments:

What would you have to do to make a safe place for your family member with PTSD? Please share your thoughts 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.