June 25, 2024

War Broke My Husband. LOV Made Us Whole Again.

By Elizabeth Haag

It was supposed to be a celebration dinner.

My 22-year-old husband was home from war after six excruciating months during which we’d had virtually no contact.

We headed to a restaurant with friends—fellow Marines and their spouses.

At some point during dinner, two waitresses collided with each other. Their trays hit the floor, shattering dishes.

The next thing I knew, Jason was under the table.

It was 2003. The forever wars, as they would come to be called, had just begun. It would take years, decades, to realize their full cost.

Though I’d known Jason would need time to adjust after his first combat deployment to Iraq, nothing had prepared me for seeing him vacant-eyed under a restaurant table.

I’m sure it shocked us both. We gathered our things and left.

Jason reunites with his youngest child, Peyton, following a combat deployment.

Back home with our friends, we opened beers and acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. This pattern would repeat for many years.

Of course, we know now that Jason’s strange behaviors—sleeping in short bursts and then not sleeping at all, pacing the house at night, checking the locks on the windows and doors, extreme reactions to loud nosies—were symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

It would take nearly a decade—and two more combat deployments—before we received the official diagnosis. By then, I barely recognized the man I had known since we were in seventh grade. By then, untold damage had been done.

In 2010, the U.S. Senate designated June 27 PTSD Awareness Day. Since 2014, June has been recognized as PTSD Awareness Month. It is no coincidence that these designations came after years of war and as the number of veterans and service members dying by suicide continued to climb.

I like to think that increased awareness around PTSD and efforts to reduce the stigma attached to it have been helpful for those who suffer from this silent illness. I hope it has given them the courage to seek help, and to get better.

I can’t say for certain whether it would have helped Jason all those years ago. For a time, he avoided asking for help because he feared the impact on his career in the Marine Corps.

Had we known then what we know now, perhaps he would have sought help earlier and not suffered so much.

Elizabeth, Jason, and Axel vacationing in Puerto Rico.

As anyone who has followed Jason’s journey knows, a German shepherd named Axel changed his life.

By the time they were paired together, I felt like I had done everything that I could. I was at the end of my capabilities. I was running out of options.

Axel saved Jason’s life, and in the process, he changed all of us. He made all of us better.

I am so proud of Jason’s work to give that gift to others. I’m grateful that today, we have a name for what he’s gone through, and that service members and veterans no longer have to suffer in silence.

Elizabeth Haag was married to Leashes of Valor founder and retired Marine Corps Capt. Jason Haag for 17 years. They have three children together.