COLLINSVILLE, Ill. (KMOV.com) -- Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. There’s a group in the Metro East helping vets regain their lives with the companionship of a dog.
Paul Whitmer is one of those veterans.
“A service dog for me has become a key to the future,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer served and worked with the U.S. Army for more than 30 years.
When he returned home to Illinois after at least five deployments, he looked for help. At one point he said he was taking seven medications to treat his PTSD.
“It felt like waking up every morning was sort of Groundhog Day. Every day just the same. There were no high points, no low points. Every day was, on a scale of 1-10, was a five and you knew tomorrow was going to be a five,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer applied for a Got Your Six Support Dog and a dog named Paul joined his family over a year ago.
The two share a name and now a mission to heal and they are seeing results. Whitmer is now down to just one medication when needed.
Got Your Six is a nonprofit that offers specialized service dogs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and/or sexual trauma.
The group is based in Collinsville and offers service dogs to vets across the country.
The name of the group was chosen to signal to vets and first responders that this organization is for them.
“It’s slang and it was started in World War II by the fighter pilots because when they’re talking about direction, they’re talking about it in a sense of a clock,” said Nicole Lanahan, Got Your Six Executive Director. “So when you’re flying in formation and you’re right behind somebody they would say ‘hey, I got your six o’clock, or I got your six or got your back’.”
The trained dogs can alert veterans to symptoms of anxiety, interrupt nightmares and remind their owners of tasks like taking medication or finding a misplaced cellphone.
Leon Alexander became a board member for the organization after he said his service dog Bob changed his life.
“I am living proof of what a resurrection is because Bob was able to get me back connected with society,” Alexander said.
Whitmer said his new partnership with Paul is a lot of work and a major commitment, but they are getting results.
“I've been able to laugh and smile and emotionally open myself up to my wife and my family and my friends so it’s been a tremendous awakening,” said Whitmer.
The service dogs are provided to vets and first responders free of charge. Each dog costs the nonprofit about $25,000 to train the dog, care for it and for a two-week therapeutic program for the vets and dog together.