James Patterson spent years touched by the deaths of soldiers as he served in the U.S, Marines in the Gulf War and through several deployments to Iraq. He spent his career in the mortuary unit, working his way up to Chief Warrant Officer 5 in the highly specialized platoon.
In Iraq Patterson commanded the unit where he and his men were exposed to horrifying sights and unimaginable situations. Eventually, after constant exposure, the tragedies caught up with him. Patterson returned home haunted by the experiences of war and suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The psychological effects of the wars were so bad that James isolated himself from his family and those who cared about him and spent his time alone on a boat.
James got help from veteran groups, but despite numerous attempts at therapy to help quiet his mind, he still suffered. While at the National Naval Medical Hospital in Bethesda, he met a veteran with a service dog. After watching the pair he began to think a dog might be the miracle cure he needed. While at Bethesda Patterson also met Laura Lee, a facility therapy dog from Southeastern Guide Dogs’ Paws for Patriots™ program, and he began to research service dogs.
After applying to and being accepted at a number of places, a conversation with Rita Princivalli convinced him that Southeastern was the place for him. He came to campus and was paired with Honey Girl, a lovely pale yellow Labrador. This duo has been together for more than a year and the change in Patterson is amazing. He no longer isolates himself. Patterson has moved back home with his wife and son and is holding down a job. He says he is “getting by,” but thanks to the constant unconditional love and support he receives from Honey Girl, we can see he is thriving.
Southeastern Guide Dog’s Paws for Patriots program looks to serve our wounded warriors through three different manners. The program pairs guide dogs with visually impaired soldiers, veteran assistance dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD, and places facility therapy dogs at major military medical centers to spread encouragement while our wounded warriors are healing. And as is the case with all of Southeastern’s programs, the recipients pay nothing, thanks to the generosity of donors and volunteers.