Jeff Ehrhart will always remember his days spent in the Triton Class U. S. Submarine. Well, at least some of them.
During his Naval deployment, Jeff sustained a serious head wound and spent 45 days in a coma. Though the event occurred nearly 20 years ago, it has forever changed his life. He still experiences mild PTSD, memory loss, and depression. Jeff, like many wounded veterans, has difficulty being in crowds, feeling like he needs to be on constant alert. Sudden or loud noises are disturbing. While he has been receiving on-going treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the memory loss can be difficult to handle.
Another lingering effect is depression. Stress of unemployment and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy tends to make him want to curl up inside himself. Though his life has changed since the injury, Jeff is able to keep a good sense of humor. He laughed and said, “Either you’re crazy to serve on a submarine, or you’re crazy when you come out.”
Someone introduced him to Pets for Vets which pairs a veteran with a rescued shelter animal, usually a dog, although cats and other animals may be considered. Growing research shows animal companionship can reduce blood pressure, help alleviate stress, loneliness and anxiety. It also develops responsibility and increases opportunities for exercise and socialization. Animal companionship provides love, affection and an accessible, effervescent source of support, and a sense of being needed.
Jeff was paired with a young English Setter with big soulful brown eyes rescued from a shelter after someone found her lost in the woods. She had been abandoned and left without food and water; she suffered malnutrition and bleeding feet. Since acquiring the dog, Jeff has someone to love him and greet him when he comes home. It has built responsibility and given him a sense of fulfillment.
“She keeps me centered, something to focus on to get out of yourself,” he stated as Bena crawled into the booth, placing her paws on his shoulders. “She needs me as much as I need her.”
Jeff is proud of his Naval service. As a Fire Control and Computer Monitoring Technician, he spent long hours in front of a monitor. In total, he spent 4 years, 6 months and 27 days under water.
The direction of his life has changed, but he still has career goals involving the military. Being a recipient of a companion animal, he realizes there is much he and Bena can do for returning veterans. Jeff plans to continue his education, choosing to specialize in Environment Studies and Policy Regulations, and certification for Bena as a therapy dog. By working as a volunteer counselor, he will have the ability to help returning Veterans seek medical assistance for their PTSD.