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October 1, 2013

'You feel isolated and alone'

Veteran connects service dogs to injured soldiers

Nearly every hour a U.S. military veteran takes his or her own life. More often than not, the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are factors in pushing them over the edge.

With an estimated 400,000 veterans in Massachusetts alone, this statistic suggests a staggering epidemic of suicide among men and women who have bravely worn the country’s uniform.

It is also a woeful fact that nearly half the 50,000 dogs residing in animal shelters across the state will wind up being euthanized because no one has volunteered to adopt them.

But, it’s here, at the nexus of these two sad statistics, that Newbury resident Donald Jarvis has discovered that a flicker of hope survives. And with help from his new pal, Mocha — a black Lab mix trained to be his service dog — Jarvis is beginning to see a light at the end of a very dark tunnel for him, and, he hopes, for others like him.

A 2004 graduate of Triton Regional High School, Jarvis served as an E-4 specialist combat engineer with the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 182 Engineering Company of the 101st Engineering Battalion. He was in Afghanistan on his second tour of duty following a year in Iraq when the vehicle he was in went over an IED. He suffered an injured right knee and mild TBI that left him with headaches, eye sensitivity and some memory problems.

After more than six months in a medical facility, Jarvis returned to his home in Newbury. His knee still aches, but the pains in his head are slowly fading. He learned strategies for coping with the memory loss, but his emotional pain was harder to deal with because, like so many vets, he kept it locked inside. Jarvis said his family and friends just assumed he was “partying too much” — not understanding that his pattern of destructive drinking was actually a classic symptom of PTSD.

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