Skip Navigation
Through the Cracks

Veterans with PTSD train service dogs to take back control of their lives

By Keira McGuire

Veterans may train their own dog as a service dog, as long as the dog meets the Dog T.A.G.S. program requirements.

Keira McGuire / WITF

Veterans may train their own dog as a service dog, as long as the dog meets the Dog T.A.G.S. program requirements.

Brandi Deibler served eight years in the Army. During that time, she was a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic, an aircraft crew chief, a peacekeeper and part of a medical evacuation unit.

Following her years in the Army, Deibler says she felt “hypervigilant” and “on guard.”

Keira McGuire / WITF

Brandi Deibler and her service dog Splash take a break during training.

“You know, being in medical evacuation we had to be able to go from dead asleep to in the air in six to ten minutes. So, you’re very constantly hypervigilant. When you get back that doesn’t really leave you.”

Deibler didn’t feel like herself and it was starting to get in the way of time with her young son.

“I had my son and we had taken him to a fair. … I couldn’t enjoy spending time with my family because I felt like I always had to be on guard and watching my family and our backs.”

She decided to seek help through a program called Dog T.A.G.S. The program teaches veterans to train their own service dogs. Other than the cost of caring for the dog, there is no cost to the veteran.

In order to participate, veterans must have been diagnosed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury as a result of their service.

Deibler was paired with Splash. She is in level four, the final level, of their training. When training is complete, Splash will have multiple tasks, including turning on the light when Deibler experiences a nightmare, alerting Deibler when her anxiety begins to rise, and putting her weight on Deibler to calm her down.

“I have noticed … when I’m in public with her I’m not as on guard. I’m able to focus more on enjoying being out and being with my family. She senses if I get anxious and stuff and she’ll let me know and she can come up and put her weight on me.”

Deibler encourages others to seek help if they’re experiencing the symptoms of PTSD.

“Getting help is the best thing I could have done because it has helped me to manage my symptoms and really take back control of my life instead of letting the PTSD control me and regulate what I can do. It has helped me to be able to enjoy life again.”

This story is part of Transforming Health and PA Post’s mental health series Through the Cracks, which seeks to locate problems in Pa. mental health services and break down stigma by sharing personal accounts. Transforming Health is a partnership of WITF, Capital BlueCross and WellSpan Health.

Keira McGuire
Keira McGuire

Keira McGuire is a health reporter and multimedia producer for WITF. She hosts and produces Transforming Health television programs as well as other shows and documentaries for WITF’s Original Productions. McGuire produced the Emmy Award winning series HealthSmart for the last ten years. Keira previously worked at WBFF in Baltimore and WMDT in Salisbury as a reporter and anchor. She’s a graduate of Towson University.

Read more by Keira McGuire