Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Man’s Best Friend Helps Oklahoma Veteran Cope with PTSD
Karoly Czinege has lived a life that most couldn’t even begin to fathom. Originally from Budapest, Hungary, Czinege fought the Russians as a civilian freedom fighter during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.
A year later, he came to the U.S. alone as a political refugee and joined the Army in 1959. He served four tours of duty in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart and three Bronze Stars.
Czinege, who lives in Muskogee, will never forget the day that earned him his Purple Heart – March 18, 1969. While serving as a tank commander in Vietnam, his unit was attacked by a massive human wave of North Vietnamese soldiers.
“They just came and came and we kept on shooting them and shooting them and shooting them,” said Czinege. “There was none of them left.”
During the fighting, he was wounded by shrapnel when a rocket propelled grenade hit the front of his tank. Decades later, the nightmares remain.
Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Czinege has undergone both inpatient and outpatient treatment for PTSD at VA medical centers including the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC).
While undergoing inpatient treatment for PTSD in Little Rock, Ark., he mentioned to a VA doctor that he was better able to cope with his PTSD symptoms when he owned a wolf dog, which died more than five years ago. Emotionally attached to the dog, Czinege decided not to adopt another pet.
“Somehow we got to talking about me losing that wolf and right away before I was leaving, (the doctor) gave me his email address and he said ‘go home and get you a dog,” said Czinege.
After returning to Muskogee, he mentioned his conversation to JCMVAMC Social Worker Tom Potter who then began a search for a suitable dog for Czinege, who wanted a black Labrador.
Potter enlisted the help of JCMVAMC Social Worker Dusti Johns who began searching for dogs on Petfinder.com. Johns found Daphne, a five-year old black Labrador, who was trained to be a service dog.
At the urging of Potter, Czinege adopted Daphne in May and the two have been best friends ever since. Czinege said taking care of Daphne on a daily basis and the comfort the dog provides has turned his life around.
“She’s got me out of a slump, a big one,” said Czinege. “It’s night and day. I had her seven days and the silly dog was doing something and I bust out laughing and I haven’t laughed in 20 or 30 years.”
Czinege said Daphne also makes him feel safer.
“It used to be that sometimes I would come into the house and I’m shaking like a leaf,” he said. “If she’s with me, she comes into the house first and when she comes back to the door, I know there’s nobody in there. That’s one of the positives. When the nightmares come, she has slept with me when it was real bad. She would lay right next to me, real close. She does more than drugs do, let’s put it this way.”
Potter has also noticed a positive change with Czinege.
“Since he’s had the dog he’s had a decrease in his depression symptoms,” said Potter. “His words to me were that giving him something to care for and care about has helped him cope better. He feels safer at home knowing that the dog has his back.”
Pet therapy is not an official VA treatment for PTSD and helping a Veteran find a pet is not routine for JCMVAMC social workers, but going the extra mile to help a Veteran who has given so much for our country was important for Potter and Johns.
“As providers we try to think outside the box and do whatever we can for the Veteran,” said Potter. “I think because we knew that he had a dog previously, had a great relationship with that dog and it was good treatment for him, we urged him to go in that direction again. We know the therapeutic value of pets. People who have had a lot of trauma in their life really find a peace with animals.”
Now, every day around 6:30 a.m., Czinege and Daphne can be seen walking together in Muskogee.
“I fix her breakfast and then I read the Bible,” said Czinege. “When I get through, she’s there and ready to go.”