Jonathan Bittner’s cell phone is never out of reach. At any moment, he could receive a call from a distraught veteran. He is there to help 24/7 on the Operation Ward 57 crisis hotline. He estimates that he receives approximately 150 calls annually. After serving in the Army in Afghanistan for one year, Jonathan is finally on the other side of the crisis hotline.
“When I got out of the Army in 2013, I struggled with mental health issues and addiction,” he admits.
As a youngster, Jonathan always dreamed of joining the military and serving his country; he never considered a different career path. Deployed to Afghanistan in 2007, he suffered a career-ending injury that eventually sent him stateside and out of the Army.
Once home, the transition to civilian life was made more difficult by post-traumatic stress disorder. Thankfully, Annie came to his rescue. At 7 years old, Annie has been with Jonathan through thick and thin. She is a labrador retriever service dog assigned to help with his PTSD.
“I am more relaxed when she is near,” he states simply. Although Annie no longer needs to accompany him when he leaves the house, Jonathan acknowledges that she helps alleviate his panic attacks, and she has often awoken him from nightmares.
Not only was Jonathan tackling physical issues, he also was struggling to find his sense of purpose in life. He knew he needed help and sought a psychologist. “I had to rely on someone who was a psychologist to help me make sense of what I had been through,” he says. “This gave me a passion to want to help others who are in the same situation that I was. I want to be that doctor!”
After researching and visiting several local colleges, he kept hearing about the great psychology program at Immaculata. Although he lives an hour away from campus, he decided to visit himself.
“When I left the school after the initial tour, the biggest impact that the visit had on me was how nice everyone was.” He explains, “I had never been to a school where students would hold the door open for others and say, ‘Hello,’ ‘Please,’ and ‘Thank you.’ I was blown away!” He applied to Immaculata that very same day.
Once he enrolled and started taking classes, he encountered some challenges. After weathering the first few semesters, Jonathan acknowledges that he persevered because everyone at Immaculata “went to bat for me.” He has high esteem for the faculty and especially appreciates Sister Judith Parsons, IHM, associate professor of philosophy, for her patience and support during a particularly stressful time.
As a student in Immaculata’s College of Adult Professional Studies, he is thankful for his academic advisor, Kate Commiskey, who has helped guide him through three years of classes. He was honored when she recently notified him that he met the criteria to be a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society, which recognizes students in continuing higher education. He was inducted into this society in April. He is also a member of Psi Chi, the national honor society for psychology and he plans to graduate next May.
With a solid plan for his future, he has a purpose for his life––a reason to get out of bed every morning.
“Now I have goals: education and work. I have a clear sense of purpose for my life,” he explains. After graduating with his undergraduate degree, Jonathan plans to pursue his Psy.D. so that he can work with veterans who have experienced loss in their lives. “I know that I have something to offer,” he says.
Even before he officially graduates, Jonathan is sharing his expertise. Recently he was a guest speaker on the topic of trauma and veterans for an Immaculata psychology class. In addition to his crisis hotline duties, he also serves as the district commander of 15 VFW posts in Montgomery County. Although both jobs are volunteer positions, he works tirelessly because he wants to help others.
As a newlywed, Jonathan and his wife, Lauren, (along with Annie) live a quiet, typical American life. However, he is only a phone call away for anyone needing his help.