Ten years ago yesterday, a 50-caliber machine gun "decided not to play nice" with Josh Schutt.
The 1999 South Williamsport Area High School graduate was serving in the Army in Iraq when his gun exploded, leaving him with shrapnel in his stomach and leg, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
After three weeks in a hospital in Iraq, Germany and then at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Md., and several months more of rehabilitation, Schutt was walking again without a limp. Two surgeries and therapy didn't get all the shrapnel, and certainly didn't remove all the injuries to his memory and instincts.
Today, Schutt is working with Gatorland K-9, which trains service dogs, to raise the funds to get himself a German shepherd that will help alleviate the physical and psychic pain he suffered in war.
"It's not a seeing-eye dog, it's not something everybody's used to seeing," Schutt said from his home in Philadelphia. "Dogs are a fairly new treatment - not a lot of veterans know about it."
Several non-profit organizations match service dogs with veterans. Since he's "working and trying to live a normal life," Schutt decided to raise the $20,000 needed to get a dog himself. Most organizations have a wait list of over a year and require the veteran receiving a dog to go away for training for about a month.
Gaining back some normalcy in his life is much of the reason for getting a service dog, Schutt says.
"It can wake me up when I start having nightmares or night terrors. I go into a restaurant and look over all my surroundings, I look at the closest exit. The dog will help destress me and relax me; when it senses I'm stressing out, I can pet it, help distract me from thoughts of being over in Iraq and everything else."
The dog will help remind Schutt to take his medication, and, he hopes the calming effects of the animal will help him ease off his medication.
"I don't feel like taking meds the rest of my life," Schutt said. "I'm only 33, I've got another 40-plus years in me. The (Veterans' Administration) lacks big time in dealing with PTSD. They are just now doing research on it," he said, when other independent studies about service dogs indicate they help with PTSD - "their research might be done next year, and they might admit in 20 years that service dogs help."
Jill Pavel, Gatorland K-9 public relations director who is working with Schutt to raise funds, said the Veterans Administration "doesn't like to give dogs, they say because they're not 100 percent sure it's a viable therapy. In my opinion, they don't have the manpower to handle the onslaught, since there's such a massive amount of veterans who know service dogs could be essential to their therapy."
Pavel says that so far more than $2,500 has been raised for Schutt's dog. Her company will host a golf tournament to raise funds for Schutt on Oct. 7 at Honey Brook Golf Club in West Chester.
"We're hoping to make this an event that not only raises awareness for vets with PTSD, but that we raise enough revenue for Josh to start working on our next veteran," Pavel said.
"We need to find ways to help the veterans," Schutt said. "We need to do more than say 'get on meds and go sit in the corner.'"
For more information about Josh Schutt's campaign or to donate, Pavel can be contacted at 732-423-2070 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about PTSD is available on Schutt's Facebook page, "Help Support A Veteran Fight PTSD."