Wounded vet credits K9: "He saved my life"

BETHESDA, Md. (WUSA9) -- Retired Marine Corps Capt. Jason Haag is certain he wouldn't be here today without his dog, Axel.

"There is not a doubt about it in my mind, this dog saved my life," Haag said. "I would have turned into a [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] statistic, due to suicide probably, without him."

Instead, with the help of his German Shepherd from K9s for Warriors, Haag continues to recover from three combat tours and is in Bethesda this week helping to kick off the Quicken Loans National golf tournament at Congressional Country Club.

PHOTOS: Vets, service dogs ready for Quicken Loans first tee ceremony

K9s for Warriors is a nonprofit organization based out of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. that partners service dogs with men and women who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan while in military service, specializing in those who suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, Sandi Capra, Director of Development for the organization, said.

Haag was wounded several times during his 14 years in the Marines, by a machine gun in 2003 and an improvised explosive device in 2007 while in Iraq, and again by an IED while serving in 2010 in Afghanistan.

When he returned to the U.S., Haag said he completely isolated himself from friends and family while suffering from severe PTSD and a traumatic brain injury from the final IED.

"He just didn't leave his basement and his whole family was really struggling," Capra said. "Finally his wife said 'you've got to do something, we just can't go on like this.'"

A year and a half later, he found K9s for Warriors.

As part of the K9s for Warriors program, veterans travel to Florida where they stay for three weeks in a class of 4-5 wounded warriors training with their new service dog, Capra said. All together, they spend 120 hours in training.

"It's a full program, it's not just giving them a dog," Capra said. "It's the peer-to-peer support they get while they're there. It's the support they get before, during and after the program, and then they receive a service dog."

Haag was partnered with Axel in 2012, and he says the dog helps him manage his day-to-day life.

"[Axel] helps me with my anxiety, my flashbacks, helps me find my keys, wallet, truck, you name it," Haag said. "He brings me my medicine, he can wake me up from my night tremors and nightmares. Things like that."

Most importantly, Haag credits the dog with helping him return to some level of normalcy in life.

"Once I got Axel, it helped me to reintegrate myself back into my family, society, everything," Haag said. "You can't put a price on happiness, and to see smiles on the faces of your kids or your wife, and that's what Axel did."

Along with retired Air Force Capt. Dee Myrick (and his dog, Tiger), Haag was at Congressional Country Club Wednesday to participate in the Quicken Loans National ceremonial first tee with tournament host Tiger Woods.

Saturday, Haag will be hosting a gala fundraiser event for K9s for Warriors at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington.

If you see him, be sure not to pet the dog.

"When we go out in public, the [service] vest goes on and that's when Axel calms down and becomes a service dog," Haag said. "That's why you see all the stuff on [the vest], to tell the general public they can't pet him. That's so he doesn't get distracted from helping me out."


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