"Captain Jason Haag served three tours of combat duty, leading Marine Corps troops in fighting across Iraq and Afghanistan. But his toughest battle, the one that nearly killed the Purple Heart winner, was simply coming back home.
Haag, who turns 34 on the Fourth of July, credits a specially trained service dog named Axel for helping him recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which afflicts an estimated 30 percent of America’s war veterans. The symptoms include severe depression, anxiety, flashbacks and panic attacks related to the horrors of war and the difficulty of readjusting to civilian life.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if it wasn’t for Axel, I’d be six feet underground now,” said Haag, who lives with his wife, Elizabeth, and three children in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “I’d have become a PTSD statistic.”
After his third tour of duty, Haag spent a year and a half locked up in his basement, the windows blacked out. He’d text his wife when he needed something. Suffering from nightmares and panic attacks, he received a medical discharge from the military for severe PTSD. Drinking heavily and on two dozen types of medication, he often turned violent — screaming at his kids, throwing things and once choking his wife.
“I was slowly killing myself with alcohol, prescription medications, isolation, anger,” Haag said by phone. “My wife finally said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. You have one more chance. You have to find something that works."