Army veteran William Stump never imagined he’d spend his military retirement fighting a complex neurological disease.
“I was having bad panic and anxiety attacks when I returned home from Iraq in 2004,” Stump says. “I was having trouble eating, muscular pain, facial pain and numbness in my arm.”
MS is characterized by unpredictable onsets of symptoms – from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis – as well as remissions and relapses and is often difficult to diagnose.
While doctors initially suspected Stump had endured traumatic brain injury during his time in Iraq, an MRI confirmed lesions on his brain consistent with MS. “It was a shock, as I was thinking I had TBI and lo and behold, MS came out of nowhere,” he says. “But it makes sense, as MS and post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety all tie into each other.”
Stump began working with another veterans service organization to assist in filing his claim, but after realizing little was being done, he began researching other VSOs online when he stumbled across Paralyzed Veterans of America. “My national service officer in Philadelphia was amazing; she helped me get the rating and pushed everything through,” he says. “You hear the horror stories of claims taking five to 10 years, but mine from start to finish was maybe a year and a half.”
Having secured a rating for service-connected MS, Stump roughly one year later traveled to Florida to be paired with a service dog through the nonprofit K9s for Warriors program. His dog, a Hound mix named Woody, instantly became his saving grace, particularly after returning home to Philadelphia to a broken relationship that left him without a place to call home.
K9s for Warriors has since been the driving force of everyday for Stump, who now actively volunteers with the program. While his current duties include cleaning kennels and other apprenticeship tasks, his hope is to begin working with the dog trainers and eventually become a warrior trainer, which would enable him to work with his fellow wounded and injured veterans.
“I can’t say enough about the dog program and how much it’s helped me, especially over the past few months,” Stump says. “I had a choice to either live or die, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste what K9s for Warriors did for me.”
Stump also remains grateful to Paralyzed Veterans of America, for providing top-notch assistance with his VA benefits claim, and for the research and care advocacy they provide to veterans with MS.
“To Paralyzed Veterans of America, I’m just so thankful for what they did for me,” Stump says. “I can’t thank them enough.”