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Published November 5, 2019

VOW 22 helps veterans and their families battle PTSD

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

Cathi Beatty realized her husband had a problem.

She had slammed a closet door too loudly and startled him. He frantically dove under the bed covers and started breathing heavily.

A military veteran, Cathi knew PTSD when she saw it.

Her husband, DJ, had served in Iraq (2004) and Afghanistan (2007). Among other horrors of war, he had carried the dead bodies of his buddies out of a building after an explosion. Now, his family was paying the price.

“He seemed almost destructive,” Cathi says. “He seemed like he was pushing us all away. He was on a downward spiral.”
DJ’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was so bad the couple slept head-to-toe in bed because DJ would start swinging his arms wildly in the middle of the night.

Cathi, who met DJ while both were stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., struggled to get help for her husband. It was a frustrating battle.

Then, in 2014, the Lake Jackson family got a break. DJ, who had been a dog handler before leaving the Army in 2011, was put in touch with Paws for Heroes, a Houston organization that rescues homeless dogs ands trains them to serve as companion dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD.

Enter Axel, a dog similar to the one DJ handled in the military. DJ improved immediately.

“Axel has been a godsend,” Cathi says. “They have a bond that is indescribable. It is a beautiful thing to see.”

DJ, who once at a low point talked of suicide, now credits Axel with the fact he no longer needs sleeping pills or anti-anxiety pills. DJ also says his four-legged companion senses trouble and will wake him before a dream turns into a terrifying flashback.

With Axel along, the family is able to take more trips. “DJ is more relaxed,” Cathi says. “ He knows Axel has his back.”
Unfortunately, not every veteran has a Cathi or an Axel.

Suicides by veterans have reached epidemic levels. The Department of Veteran Affairs reported in September that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017. As we mark another Veterans Day, there is little evidence that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA’s top priority.

Although the total population of veterans declined by 18 percent during that span, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually.

In 2017, Cathi and DJ met David and Stephanie Vincent, the founders of VOW 22, a Brazoria County non-profit seeking to combat veteran suicides through community awareness, camaraderie, interaction and communication. David, a former Marine drill sergeant who has lost buddies to suicide, serves as VOW 22’s president and Stephanie is vice president.

The couples hit it off and now Cathi, in addition to working full time at Dow, serves as VOW 22’s veterans resources specialist. Cathi and Stephanie were recently honored as Hometown Heroes by the Brazoria County Fair Association.

Cathi finds help for struggling veterans by putting to use what she learned helping her husband. She understands what veterans and their families are going through.

Cathi gets three distress calls in a typical week. The calls can be related to PTSD or family, financial or medical problems.
She also checks in every week with 10-15 veterans to see how they are doing. There are another 30 veterans she checks in with every other week.
VOW 22 partners with the Brazoria County Counseling Center and, according to Stephanie, is currently paying the cost of treatment for 35 veterans or their families. The 35 peopled have had 105 sessions.

VOW 22 raises much of its money by hosting a Veteran Suicide Awareness Hike each March in Lake Jackson. The organization’s hike this year raised more than $50,000.

Cathi thinks VOW 22 fills a need because the military is slow to recognize PTSD in active-duty soldiers and resources are often limited when soldiers become civilians.

Although Brazoria County now has a VA outpatient clinic, she says the county still doesn’t have enough resources to help its 22,000 veterans.

And she doesn’t want veterans to go through everything she and DJ went through.

“I suffered in silence while I battled demons at home,” she says.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)