Retrieving Freedom: Local Army veteran teams up with service dog to combat PTSD

By Halie Frahm

After over a year of escorting convoys in western Iraq (the proclaimed most dangerous part of the country) and another deployment to Afghanistan, Matthew Miller began to realize how war had changed him.

“Shortly after I returned after two years away from home, I noticed things were not the same,” he said. “I was getting angry, anxious doing the things I use to have no problems with (large crowds, noisy rooms and the grocery store), and I had a very short attention span. This went on for several years, and it had become my new ‘normal.’ Other people would make comments such as: ‘you use to be so happy’ and asked what happened to me. I denied that anything was different, but wondered if I had truly changed.

“Over time my anxiety and anger grew, but now I was becoming depressed along with the other feelings. In June of 2014, I finally went to see my doctor to try to see if there was something that could explain my feelings. To my shock, he suggested that I was probably suffering from PTSD. That really hit me hard. A few months later I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by the VA,” said Miller in his testimonial “Letter From a Veteran.”

Miller began his journey to obtain a service dog from Retrieving Freedom in Waverly, in May of 2015. In October of that same year, he was officially paired with his labrador retriever Nala.

“Nala is trained to help me with some of the conditions I have from combat related stress,” Miller said. “She can sense my anxiety and when I get nervous. She will either get closer to me, jump-up and put her paws on me or just rest her head on my leg. She also helps me sleep through the night without the nightmares I used to have. On the rare occasion that I have a nightmare now, she will come lay right by me, and she helps me realize that it was just a nightmare. She can also retrieve things for me and help pick-up items.”

Miller could not imagine life without his service dog, going so far as to say in his testimonial, “Nala has changed my life in so many ways. She has been my constant companion and my best friend. She was there to support me when I was weak, comfort me when I was anxious and love me no matter what I was facing.”

“Retrieving Freedom has given me something that no doctor could, no medication could or counselor could: freedom. Freedom to help other veterans, freedom to experience new opportunities, freedom to reconnect with the outdoors and freedom to live a fulfilled life.”

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