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Dog with tongue out

German shepherd helps Army vet battle with PTSD

The 64-year-old Army veteran who has been battling post-traumatic stress disorder is finally sharing his story, thanks to a new ally named Dazzle.

Dazzle is an 81-pound German shepherd specially trained to help people who suffer from PTSD regain some normalcy in their lives.     
      "God spared my life and I think now I know why," said Ray, who served in Vietnam from December 1966 to May 1968. "I've got to face (PTSD) but keep moving forward, and now I've got a goal."
Since receiving Dazzle in September, he and his wife Karen are doing what they can to raise awareness about PTSD and a study at the Department of Veterans Affairs center in Tampa that brought him and Dazzle together.
The two-year study will look at how Dazzle has helped Ray deal with his disability. In exchange for the dog and $75 a month for food, Ray must send in updates every couple of months about how he is doing.
"There's a reason for doing this, and that's to help others," Ray said at his home in Navarre with Dazzle at his side. "I never in a million years would have imagined I'd do this."
For years Ray has suffered nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety attacks and feelings of worthlessness. But the diagnosis didn't come until 2002.
"Twenty years in the Army and I didn't know what PTSD was. They didn't talk about it," Ray said. "I didn't think I was any different than anybody else."
A civilian doctor diagnosed it after Ray had some particularly debilitating episodes.
To help him cope, the doctor recommended he see a psychiatrist, who soon confirmed Ray had PTSD and recommended that he go to a treatment center for a couple weeks of rest.
Ray ended up staying a few months after he was diagnosed with full-blown PTSD - the kind that no amount of medication or therapy will erase.
The realization was a hard one for Ray and Karen, but they did what they could to cope. Ray went to group therapy twice a week and Karen went once a week.
Eventually, Ray decided they needed a change of scenery and they moved from their home in Maryland to Northwest Florida where his sister lived. It was a decision that would worsen his condition.
Shortly after moving to the area, Ray concluded that Karen was unhappy because she was far from her friends and family. He became angry at himself for moving her.
"I just wanted to be left alone," Ray said. "I was doing a lot of soul searching . and thinking, 'God, I'm really hating myself.' "
For years, he thought of suicide and sought ways to be alone. He sometimes urged Karen to stay with her family up north for months at a time.
During what became a two-month trip in June, Karen came across an article that ultimately changed their lives.
It was a story about a man with PTSD who had been given a dog to help him with his condition.
"Something inside me knew that was going to work out for Ray," Karen said. "I never doubted that he'd get a dog."
When she returned, she made some calls, got the paperwork and gave Ray a job.
"She said, 'Fill out this paperwork or else,' " Ray recalled. "She would never leave me, but she made it sound like it."
The Galmiches traveled to Williston, Fla., in August for an interview to get Ray a dog from Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs. The organization contracts with Veterans Affairs to supply dogs to veterans who suffer from PTSD.   
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