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Local hero chronicles struggle with mental health in first book

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - From the Resort City, James Hatch, a retired Special Warfare Officer, runs a successful nonprofit.

Spikes K9 Fund has gotten national recognition, as it works to outfit working dogs with special ballistic vests and care. It's a mission that is close to Hatch's heart, since a K9 saved his life while losing his own.

While Spikes K9 Fund has helped Hatch give back, he is now taking a different approach by using his own personal story to shed a light on the mental health battles service men and woman go through when returning from war.

"I was shot and wounded. I came home and struggled mightily after that, I wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought I would be," shared Hatch.

"Touching the Dragon," Hatch's first book, was published in May. It chronicles the struggles of his emotional recovery from war.

"When I got hurt and twisted up in my head, I went through the process of getting better I met a lot of people like me," he said.

Hatch credits his recovery to being surrounded by support. Some of the people he knew; others he had never met.

"I remember being in my hospital bed in Bethesda and these two guys walked into my room and said, 'Hey man how are you doing?' I didn’t know who they were. They said we are Vietnam vets and we are here to make sure you don’t get treated like we did," said Hatch.

Hatch says this act of compassion stuck with him over the years and became part of his inspiration to write down his own story.

"The more people I met, the more I realized that it is pretty common," said Hatch. "It needs to be something that is a little bit more easily discussed on a regular basis."

His goal of "Touching the Dragon" is to open the conversation about mental health so that service men and women don't feel so alone.

"The mental health stuff is a serious deal, and it's time that we stop making a business out of words like 'resiliency' and 'stigma' and just take care of each other. It's really that simple," said Hatch. "That is what the people helped me get to the point where I can run a nonprofit and write a book; that’s what they did. They just took care of me; it wasn’t a business. It was just caring."

"Touching the Dragon" can be purchased at many area book stores and online. If the book is purchased on www.touchingthedragon.com, all proceeds will go to Spikes K9 Fund.

To learn more about the nonprofit, visit their website at www.spikesk9fund.org.