Volunteering & Giving
December 2, 2014

‘Protector and companion’ helps veteran overcome PTSD

A donated service dog is helping a former combat driver — who spent nearly two years in Iraq — get the support she needs to heal.

As a combat driver and gunner on a lead vehicle in Iraq, Christina Cross witnessed the war from the front lines. She returned home to North Carolina with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and had trouble moving on with her life. But with the help of Peggy — her service dog — Christina now is overcoming PTSD and regaining control of her life.

“Peggy senses when I’m nervous, and she has this amazing ability to make me feel safe,” says Christina. “She’s my protector and my companion.” The dog calms her when she feels nervous and provides physical protection when she is in anxiety-inducing situations.

According to Veterans Affairs, about 22 veterans take their lives each day in the U.S. because of mental illnesses like PTSD. Christina is treating her PTSD with help from the VA hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And Peggy is a large part of her recovery, Christina says, a recovery that might not have been possible without Rich Baich’s donation of the German shepherd puppy.

Rich, a retired 20-year Navy commander and Wells Fargo’s chief information security officer, had adopted Peggy, but the Baich family quickly realized they didn’t need such a highly skilled dog. “We had heard about highly skilled dogs helping veterans and realized what a huge difference Peggy could make for a veteran with PTSD,” says Rich, who participates in local activities to support active-duty military and veterans.

Rich turned to Charlotte Bridge Home, a nonprofit helping veterans transition to civilian life after military service, to see whether a local veteran might need a skilled dog.

Christina served on the front lines in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006 and 2007 with the Army Reserve. “I did what needed to be done and it was a privilege to serve,” she says. In 2011, following honorable discharge from the military, she returned home to Charlotte, North Carolina, to be with her family. But something wasn’t right. She says, “I just kept telling myself that I was fine and that the feeling was normal, but deep down I knew I wasn’t fine.”

With help of a family friend, she connected with Rich and Charlotte Bridge Home, and Rich enrolled Peggy in specialized training.

Today, Christina is a mom with two young kids and works as a nurse assistant at a nursing home, often with aging veterans. She says she plans to attend nursing school in 2015 to become a registered nurse and hopes to work at a VA hospital or in pediatrics.

“Veterans are strong and capable, and it’s important that we get the proper care and support to succeed here at home,” says Christina. “I’m grateful to Rich, Charlotte Bridge Home, and, most of all, Peggy for supporting me and helping me realize my dreams.”