Marine veteran John Welch used to think his rage, depression, and even suicidal thoughts were simply part of his personality, something that he had to just ignore to get through life.
But the issues wouldn’t be ignored, and as a result, Welch, who served in the Marines in the 1980s and saw combat in Beirut, attempted suicide a total of four times.
That’s tragic, but even more tragic is the fact that this is not at all uncommon among veterans, especially those who have seen combat. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Department of Veteran Affairs estimate that 20 veterans die by suicide every day, due to untreated mental and physical effects of war.
Even the veterans who don’t die by suicide face serious issues, including crippling mental illness, trouble finding or keeping jobs, and homelessness.
Luckily, though, there are people stepping in to protect the people who protect the country, including many other veterans, like the trio of veteran friends who started a tiny house village for homeless vets.
For Welch, the new chapter of his life didn’t start with a tiny house, but with a new friend, one that would stand by him in good times and bad, one that would always love and support him, and one that would never judge him.
Through an organization called America’sVetDogs, Welch met Onyx, the black Labrador who would change his life for the better.
John Welch, 53, met his service dog, Onyx, back in April 2016, and says that the impact she’s had on his life has been nothing short of amazing.
Welch, who served in Beirut and Central America with the U.S. Marines, saw combat and the deaths of his fellow Marines, which left him deep emotional and psychological scars that manifested as depression, anger issues, and suicidal thoughts.
“I was an angry guy,” he says. “If you cut me off in your car, I was going to your house. But now I stay in the right lane.”
He also attempted suicide four separate times, a sadly common occurrence among veterans.
“They’re wounds of war far removed from the war,” he says of veteran suicides. “It’s like a bullet that finally found its mark, but it’s self-inflicted.”
His depression and anger, though, began to finally heal when he met Onyx, a black Labrador whose patience and love has been helping Welch heal ever since meeting her.
Onyx was trained by America’s VetDogs in their PTSD program, which specializes in services for those suffering from the pain of a past trauma, like combat.
Onyx wakes Welch when he has nightmares, and serves as a source of comfort and security both around the house and out in public.
“At any given moment, my brain can go to outer space,” Welch says. “She knows when I’m in that situation. That dog rests her chin on my knee and looks at me with those beautiful brown eyes, and I touch that dog’s head and now I’m back on Earth. I’m in the present.”
For many veterans like Welch, the dogs provide a stability and comfort that many of them, including Welch had found to be missing from their lives even with other therapies.
Welch, for example, had tried medications, therapy, PTSD programs, and has also been hospitalized, but says that Onyx was the missing piece in all of it.
Welch is also a painter, and has even made a short film about his experiences.
In addition to helping with emotional issues, the dogs at VetDogs are also trained to help with physical needs, such as helping with balance.
Welch is also adamant about sharing his own story in the hopes that it will help other veterans facing similar challenges, and is open about his issues, including survivor’s guilt.
“It’s very common,” he says. “I have an ongoing feeling of never having done enough. I wasn’t afraid to die. The true problem is that I was afraid to live.”
But thanks to the unconditional love of dogs like Onyx, he wants others to know that life can get better.
“There are answers; there is hope,” Welch says. “But the heaviest weight to lift is the door to the help you need.”
For Welch, that help came in the form of a black Labrador who stays by his side. And although the dogs at VetDogs aren’t specifically trained in suicide prevention, Welch insists that Onyx has saved his life.
America’s VetDogs works to pair up dogs with veterans who will click based on personality and needs, and their dogs all go through a rigorous training process so as to provide the best care to the men and women who need it most.
Watch the video below to see another veteran talk about life with a therapy dog, and how it’s making a difference in his recovery.
If you’d like to help veterans in need get the care they deserve, learn how to get involved with America’s VetDogs, through donating or, if you’re in the greater New York area, volunteering.
AndSHARE this story of lifesaving friendship with everyone you know!
Read more: http://www.littlethings.com/john-welch-and-onyx-service-dog/