Cole Lyle has always been service oriented. An Eagle Scout, Cole was drawn to the structure of the military, and decided to join the Marine Corps at age eighteen.
After serving in Afghanistan, Cole returned to his home in Texas in late 2011. A Post-Deployment Health Assessment indicated that Cole needed treatment for Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). He went to the VA and saw a psychiatrist who prescribed him sleep aids and an antidepressant.
Hoping his condition would improve, he began taking the pills and utilizing the VA’s counseling services.
But things did not get better. In fact, they got worse.
By 2014 Cole realized that the pills were — if anything — exacerbating his issues, and the therapy sessions were not helping. Honorably discharged from the military and going through a divorce, Cole had lost his sense of purpose and his sense of responsibility. Adding insult to injury, he watched in dismay as friend after friend lost their battle with PTS.
Cole got to the point where he believed he had no one to rely on; his mind was clouded by a fog of medication:
“Instead of saying ‘thank you God for these trials and tribulations,’ I was saying ‘Why me, God.'”
He decided that he would take his own life.
But a fellow Marine, who knew it was a rough day for Cole, showed up with a six-pack of beer just in time:
“That’s what Marines do.”
The next day, Cole quit all of his medications cold turkey.
Now clear-headed, Cole decided to flip the script:
“Instead of thinking, ‘I have nothing,’ I have the opportunity to do anything.”
Wanting to seize that opportunity, Cole locked himself in a room for thirty hours with nothing but a Bible and a notebook.
In those thirty hours, he was reminded that God was with him. And during that time, one of the verses that resonated with Cole most was 2 Timothy 1:7:
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
When he came out of the room, he not only had a new perspective but also a new plan.
Cole knew that his symptoms of PTS were not going to disappear overnight, but he didn’t want to continue using methods that proved ineffective. A friend talked with Cole about how much a trained service dog had helped him, and it seemed like the perfect option.
But acquiring a trained service dog wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap.
Cole initially asked the VA about service dogs and was given a “BS reason” as to why they don’t provide them to veterans with PTS. He then inquired with nonprofits, who told him that because of the high demand, the wait time for a dog would be over a year.
So using ten thousand dollars of his own money, he acquired a German Shepherd, Kaya, on his own. Through Assistance Dogs International, Kaya was trained to wake Cole up from nightmares and to recognize stress patterns in his voice.
Cole says that within weeks he saw a drastic reduction in nightmares, and Kaya quickly stops his stress from snowballing into attacks of depression and anxiety.
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The happiest of birthdays to my best friend in the whole wide world, @ctlyle! Without Cole, my life would likely be much different. And I'm glad to continue to guide him through his issues with PTS. We love & empower each other always to do great things and to love others unconditionally! I only hope we accomplish our mission and get more dogs like me in the hands of deserving vets like him! #DogsForVeterans #KayaCare #KayaGoesToCongress #GermanShepherds #GermanShepherdsofInstagram #DogsofInstagram #veteran #DC #ServiceDogs #GSD #Marine #USMC #TX #TAMU
And even though she wasn’t trained to do so, Kaya gives Cole the sense of purpose and responsibility he had been lacking since leaving the military.
“It’s not a cure all, but neither is a pill and neither is therapy.”
Now a full-time student at Texas A&M University, Cole spends his spare time advocating for his fellow veterans and lobbying for a bill known as the PAWS Act, which stands for Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act.
The bill, which was introduced by Florida Republican Representative Ron DeSantis, establishes a pilot program whereby veterans who have tried, unsuccessfully, other forms of treatment would be qualified to receive a trained service dog.
For the eighty-plus members of Congress who have already signed on to the bill, “it’s a no-brainer,” according to Texas co-signer Rep. Blake Farenthold. For Cole, it’s a way for fellow veterans to escape PTS and become functioning members of society.
Between ten and eighteen percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience Post Traumatic Stress, and on average, twenty-two veterans commit suicide a day.
Cole Lyle is part of that percentage. And he almost became a statistic.
But as he and Kaya walk the halls of Congress, it is clear to anyone who crosses their path: There’s hope.