Faithful companion
Service dog helps veteran with PTSD
By: John Fooks – Texarkana Gazette

1016328_10200503225921137_2002444572_nNEW BOSTON, Texas—Ben Kroll knew he was taking a chance on a 9-month-old puppy that he had adopted at 3 months of age, but by then he had become attached to him and knew he was smart enough and loving enough to endure the lessons he would need to learn to become a post-traumatic stress disorder service dog.

Kroll was diagnosed with PTSD following his return to the States from his 2006 tour in Afghanistan.

It’s easy to understand why.

He saw his best friend’s Humvee get lifted in the air by an improvised explosive device right in front of him.

Cpt. Chris Sitton was still alive by the time Kroll got to him, but not for long. He was missing his left arm and half of his left leg and bleeding profusely as Kroll rocked him in his arms. Sitton told him that he, Kroll, couldn’t give up, to keep on going and make it back to the States without him.

He also asked him to tell his fiancé, Sgt. Wakuna Jackson, stationed at a base not far away, that he loved her and was sorry he couldn’t make it to their wedding in two weeks when all three friends were going on rest and recuperation together in Italy.

Then he died.

It was Aug. 22, 2006, four days before Kroll’s 20th birthday.

Kroll and Cpl. Sitton were stationed in the Korengal Valley between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their merger outpost was 100 yards wide by 100 yards long and the object of incessant rocket, mortar and grenade attacks on a regular basis by the Taliban dug into the rugged terrain around them.

“We called it ‘ambush central’ because we got hit by rocket attacks about four times a week while 150 guys huddled into a little concrete bunker,” Kroll recalled. “I was a sniper and went out on missions into the mountain ridges. I was afraid for my life every day, and every day you just didn’t know what was going to happen.

“It’s true what they say, that you leave a piece of you over there and not all of you comes home,” Kroll said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get home, not completely. But I do have someone who understands and is with me 24/7. I called my dog Chance because I knew I was taking a chance when I decided to keep him, even though I had just learned that he is deaf.”

Kroll decided five years ago to join other veterans who have been part of a relatively new program for veterans with PTSD. It provides PTSD service dogs who are trained specifically to help the combat veteran who has seen and experienced more than most people can even imagine, such as having your best friend die in your arms.

Kroll adoped Chance when he was a 3-month-old puppy. But he did not learn he was completely deaf until the puppy was 9 months old. He had the opportunity then to “trade him in,” but Kroll just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He kept him, and 4 years later, he is glad he did.

Just last month, Kroll took Chance to a veteran support group he had joined about a year and a half ago. Veterans Helping Veterans is comprised of 25-plus combat veterans who come together from 5 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. every Tuesday in the Bowie County Courthouse in New Boston, Texas. Kroll sought refuge with some veterans twice his age and just as experienced in the horrors of war as he.

On that particular night group, therapist/counselor Dr. John Abney asked each of the members to answer two questions: “How did you feel going into the service, and how did you feel when you got out of the service?”

Going around the table, each veteran spoke for two or three minutes, more or less. What was interesting is that, with few exceptions, each of their comments contained similar elements. Most of them were excited or proud, albeit fearful, when they joined.

When they came home, the experiences differed, depending upon whether they were Vietnam veterans or not. Vietnam veterans received harsh treatment when they returned, which added to their mental anxieties (not to mention physical, considering Agent Orange). Otherwise, they were the same: nightmares, fear of socialization, anger and tears, family problems, etc.

At one point, as one veteran began describing how difficult it was for him following his release from the military and coming home to deal with PTSD alone, his voice began to crack and his body began to tremble.

Suddenly he looked down and saw and felt Chance laying his head in his lap and nuzzling against him. The dog was offering this battled warrior unconditional love and affection. “Bill,” we’ll call him, immediately began to relax as he stroked the dog’s head.

“He’s not the prettiest dog you ever saw, but what he does is beautiful,” Bill said. “Everybody around the table was amazed. Everybody except Ben, who had given Chance permission to come to me. It immediately began to calm me, something that would have taken hours instead of minutes otherwise. I can see why Ben keeps him around.”

Kroll just doesn’t “keep him around.” Chance is with Ben everywhere he goes, including into grocery and department stores, movies or to the lake. His wife, Aurora Kroll, understands.

“Chance is my savior,” Kroll said as he and Chance relaxed in the small veranda in the back of his Texarkana, Ark., home. “He saves me every day.”

As Chance is deaf, Kroll “speaks” to the dog with sign language. He can tell Chance to stay in one spot and walk away, but Chance will follow him wherever he goes with his eyes. At one point Kroll walked into his backyard, and Chance, lying down, turned his head to follow him. When Kroll walked out the door and turned so the divan on the back porch was in the way of his line of sight, Chance quickly rose on his front feet so he could continue to watch his master.

Whenever Kroll is also out and about and is standing and speaking to someone, Chance assumes his position directly behind his master, “watching his back.”

This past Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a bill that expands the definition of a service dog to include veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Coincidentally, Chance just received his new PTSD service dog jacket, which allows Kroll to take his dog anywhere a blind person is allowed to take their seeing-eye dog.

“PTSD service dogs can be any breed,” Ben noted. “Some are very small dogs … It doesn’t matter. What matters is the training, and there are several places where service dogs can be trained.”

Staff photo by Curt Youngblood • Chance, a German boxer, is a service dog that helps Ben Kroll cope with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill into law this past Friday allowing PTSD service dogs to enter any establishment or event that allows seeing-eye dogs

Published: 06/12/2013