(36) Going Forward with Pedals Locked in Reverse

 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)


Rarely a Good Day with PTSD 

PTSD creates a lifestyle and circumstances that make having a good day difficult. You learn to cherish the special moments and hope the bad ones fade away quickly. Yesterday developed into one of the better days for us. William and I purchased bows and arrows a couple of days earlier and charged off to the Archery Hut to shoot. Fortunately for William’s PTSD, the indoor shooting range remained empty except for a young Airman and a retired Marine. William worked his way through a panic attack by talking with the Airman about the Airman’s compound bow and upcoming elk hunt.

“I had a good day.” He used the rearview mirror to glance at his long bow that spanned from side-to-side in the backseat of his car.

Marine Elias Reyes

The mood continued through the evening until I heard a gasp from the other room. He brought me his phone and asked me to read the article.

“When you’re done, I need to talk about it.”

The headline read, “Exclusive: VA forgets veteran’s suicide, sends grieving sister his new benefits card: ‘like losing him again’. The article reported that Marine Elias Reyes committed suicide six months prior to his sister receiving his new ID card, announcing her brother’s extended VA benefits. Following his death, the family received a notice from the VA, demanding they repay the VA for his monthly benefit check of $400 since he died before the end of the month.

Reyes served three combat deployments between 2004 and 2008—twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. The young Marine suffered a traumatic brain injury from a device that exploded near him on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq. Reyes also suffered from PTSD. He ended his life earlier this year.

Sadness seeped from my husband’s eyes. His mouth hung open but no words spilled out.

“I’m sorry. I am so sorry. The suicide, the VA’s action—neither should happen.” The right words eluded me.

The War Against Terrorism and Fallujah

William and I met the Marines of the 3/1, who fought in Fallujah, shortly after the battalion returned home so I suppose the story of Reyes from the 2/7 hit home more deeply than we expected. I should not be surprised, though, as I remember when the report of the loss at Fallujah hit the papers years earlier, it affected veterans deeply, triggering serious PTSD attacks in veterans all over the country and causing at least one well-publicized suicide.

William read aloud Reyes’ comment on Facebook about the VA: “I hate the VA with a passion.” The article stated that Reyes shared with his sister that it took six weeks to get appointments and the response was to prescribe more medication, antidepressants, which he refused to take because they caused suicidal thoughts. This experience resonated with William from his own battle with the VA that began with a new prescription to help him cope with news of the attack on our Marines in Fallujah many years earlier.

Every day of his life, my husband struggles with PTSD and the horrors of his war experience, including how he was treated when returning home from Vietnam. His memories will never cease nor will they fade over time. His faith keeps him focusing ahead but the pedals often stick in reverse, making moving forward impossible. Reading the VA’s insensitive actions pulls him backwards to a time when the VA refused to acknowledge the emotional toll war took on the lives of American soldiers and warriors. He is pulled backwards by the suicide of a good man, who fought for his country in three combat deployments directly out of high school. He aches over the loss of yet another warrior abandoned by his country. Why haven’t we learned? Why can’t we save them? We suffered coming home so others wouldn’t suffer any longer. What will it take to care for these men and women and help them live a healthy life?

PTSD to Blame

I blame PTSD for every dysfunction in our home and our lives. Although I know PTSD is not to blame for everything, it likely rises to the top of the list of causes. As a caregiver for a disabled veteran, I want to protect my husband from every trigger I can yet I cannot shield him from the daily news and stories like this one that break our hearts.

To work my way through this pain and sorrow, I blog with hope that even one veteran might find help and comfort in knowing there are others who suffer with him/her. My goal is to connect veterans with services and resources that can make a positive difference in coping with and treating PTSD and TBI.

I asked William what helps him the most when sorrow overtakes him, as with the news of Marine Elias Reyes’ death. He reached down to his feet and rubbed the head of his service dog.

“Molly,” said William. Then he grabbed my hand and we prayed for the family who lost a brother and son—a young man, who chose to take up arms in a war against terrorism and lost everything because he did.


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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.