It’s been almost 50 years since Bill Fleming has returned from serving in the Vietnam War and all these years, he’s been battling post traumatic stress disorder and avoided going anywhere he might run into a large crowd.
Recently, things have changed for Fleming, who served in the U.S. Army.
Now, with his service dog “Kiara” by his side — Fleming says many daily trips and adventures are made possible.
“I never realized until I had her, how many places I avoided and it opened up a whole new world to me,” Fleming shared.
A new world, Fleming always felt was off limits.
Walking on a local trail in Central New York was often rushed due to Fleming’s need to press onward and keep watch.
For decades, Fleming admitted he suppressed PTSD symptoms with alcohol.
“You hear things like shell-shock and battle fatigue and that wasn’t the issue,” Fleming said. “The issue was being in a constant state of being alert. It was like a permanent condition like I was rewired to that. It doesn’t go away but it certainly can become manageable.”
Training with Kiara — Fleming finally “turned off” the feeling of being alert at all times and the need to drink.
Leading Dogs2Vets efforts at Clear Path for Veterans, Ryan Woodruff, also a Marine Corps veteran, says the impact can be incredible.
Woodruff says Fleming and Kiara are walking proof of that.
“A lot of the times you’ll see veterans that leave the military don’t want to put themselves in a vulnerable state and are unwilling to actually put their hand out and ask for help,” Woodruff shared.
Once avoiding any and all crowded places, Fleming and wife Mary Beth just finished a cross-country trip in an RV making memories they never thought possible. Kiara was of course there for every mile driven and every mile walked in new exciting places.
Fleming’s sleepless nights are fading as he finally feels he can be at ease.
“I don’t know what the future is going to hold but I look to more opportunities like that rather than, ‘how can I avoid this situation?'” Fleming shared.
Dogs2Vets began in 2011 and since then 60 teams, veterans and service canines, have been trained and graduated together.
For more information about services available at Clear Path including Dogs2Vets, click here.