KATY, Texas (Nexstar) — The scars from combat war followed Jodie Revils home after his tour in Iraq to the point where he couldn’t function through his every day life.
Doctors diagnosed him with a brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. The hypervigilance that helped him survive war prevented him from returning to normalcy.
“Your brain has changed to the point where you can’t just stroll down the road and not think about these things,” Revils said. “I [was] always wondering if there’s somebody trying to think of some kind of attack…it was mentally exhausting.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates anywhere from about 11-20% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan came back with PTSD.
Revils said he tried everything the VA could offer, several different therapies and was on so much medication to sleep that his wife called him a “zombie.” He said he couldn’t be present with his two daughters because he was on constant alert.
It got to the point where Revils made a plan to take his own life. The suicide rate for veterans is about double the suicide rate for non-veterans. The rate in 2019 was 31.6 veterans per 100,000 committed suicide, according to the VA.
“I saw that my family life was struggling, I saw that my children were responding to the way that I would act around any environment. And I just, I didn’t want my kids to grow up that way, learning that this was possibly a normal behavior, and I just couldn’t handle it any more,” he said.
That plan to take his life changed when he learned of one more option he hadn’t explored: a service dog.
Since 2011, a nonprofit called K9s for Warriors has been pairing veterans with service dogs for free. Revils is one of 51 Texas veterans who have benefited from service dogs thanks to K9s for Warriors. The group was founded with the goal of ending veteran suicide through pairing highly-trained dogs to military veterans.
Revils was paired with a dog named Donna, who was rescued from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The nonprofit gets the majority of its dogs through high-kill rescue shelters and then puts them through training so they can help their veterans.
“I was kind of skeptical about how they can help me,” he said. “She put her paw out onto my leg and kind of like told me it’s gonna be alright. And from then on, you know, my life was changed.”
Donna is able to serve as his second set of eyes and ears, bearing the burden of the hypervigilance that kept Revils from staying present. She can also sense when he is about to have a PTSD nightmare and wakes him up before it starts.
“I was only getting a couple hours of sleep per night, maybe three if I was lucky,” he said. “That was significant to be able to start sleeping. I still use her in place of the medicine.”
A veteran himself, Jason Snodgrass, the COO of K9s for Warriors said he’s seen some “amazing” transformations.
“The dog really just gives a person something to refocus on, if they started to have those, you know, that anxiety and they’re sitting in a in one of these difficult therapy sessions or whatnot,” Snodgrass said. “It gives them something to refocus on and kind of take their mind off of what’s going on in the in the room around them.”
To learn more about the program and how to apply as a veteran, head over to their website here.