PAX, a documentary short which tells the story of Iraq War veteran Sgt. Bill Campbell’s struggles with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, premiered at the GI Film Festival May 12. Directed by Glenn Close, PAX examines the special relationship between Campbell, who returned home 100% disabled due to PTSD and TBI, and his dog, Pax, a gift from the Puppies Behind Bars program.
Campbell, a former National Guardsman, volunteered to go to Iraq in 2004 when his unit of 10 years was deployed. In Baghdad, Campbell’s primary duty was to provide security for the Forward Operating Base, a frequent target for insurgent attacks located between the Green Zone and the Iraqi National Guard facility. Doctors diagnosed Campbell with PTSD and TBI due to traumatic and horrific events, extended exposure to life-threatening situations, and one serious head impact and multiple blasts experienced in Iraq.
Campbell struggled heavily in transitioning back to civilian life – he could no longer perform his job as a Fish Biologist with state Department of Fish and Wildlife, his personal relationships suffered, and flashbacks and paranoia made a normal lifestyle nearly impossible. His turning point was when, on the recommendation of his psychologist, he contacted Puppies Behind Bars, a program that uses female inmates to train puppies to become services dogs, and received Pax, a yellow Labrador.
Pax, a “miracle” for their family according to Campbell’s wife, Domenica, has helped him to manage many of the symptoms PTSD and TBI. She explained that Pax keeps her husband focused on the present, forces him into a routine, provides him comfort in public, and even responds to his flashbacks by nuzzling into him. Campbell credits Pax for allowing him to regain a sense of normality in his every day life, in addition to being a wonderful friend and companion.
The documentary of Campbell’s positive experience with Pax and Puppies Behind Bars segued into a panel discussion, hosted by television journalist and TBI-experiencing Bob Woodruff, on the possible benefits of dogs like Pax for veterans struggling with PTSD and TBI. Woodruff acknowledged the tremendous challenge to address PTSD and TBI and reintegrate our veterans, and said that an all-volunteer force that experiences numerous deployments can exacerbate those problems. Army Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, M.D., the highest ranking psychiatrist in the U.S. Army, expressed the belief that creative treatments, such as pairing up veterans with service dogs, do a great amount to address the challenges of PTSD and TBI, and, along with other methods, should be fully explored to figure out how best to assist veterans. Puppies Behind Bars founder Gloria Gilbert Stoga and co-directors Glenn Close and Sarah Harvey pointed to programs like PBB as providing tangible benefits for both veterans and inmates who would greatly benefit from a dog’s companionship and the sense of purpose it provides.