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PTSD Service Dogs

It’s no surprise that dogs can soothe us when we feel troubled. But research shows bonding with dogs has positive benefits even on a biological level. Dogs elevate levels of the hormone oxytocin in our bodies, which promotes feelings of trust and well being. Oxytocin also heightens the ability to interpret facial expressions, helps one overcome paranoia and can have positive effects on social interactions.

A specially trained PTSD service dog can provide an extra sense of security and have a calming effect on veterans, help with episodes of depression, anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as being loving companions. These dogs can sense a PTSD veteran’s mood and will know when it’s a difficult day for their veteran, sometimes before the veteran may even fully realize their own emotional state. Additionally, these service dogs are trained by qualified organizations to respond to a PTSD episode and help bring their humans back to a relaxed and coherent state. 

 

Experts agree that approximately 20% of veterans experience PTSD after their time serving on the front lines of the military no matter their branch of service. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined as a mental health condition triggered by a terrifyingly traumatic event – either witnessing it or experiencing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks and nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts related to the event…and those are just a few of the symptoms and challenges veterans surviving with PTSD face each and every day.

 

From the VA, “Veterans with substantial mobility limitations associated with a mental health disorder, PTSD,  for which a service dog has been identified as the optimal way to address the mobility impairment may be eligible for  veterinary health benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Mental Health Mobility Service Dog Initiative. A diagnosis of substantial mobility limitation indicates that most common life and work activities (i.e., leaving the house, or getting to medical appointments, using public transportation, etc.) are impaired or prevented for the person more than half the time. Under the Mental Health Mobility Service Dog Initiative, this benefit has been offered for Veterans with a mental health condition. It provides comprehensive coverage for the canine’s health and wellness and any prescription medications necessary to enable the dog to perform its duties in service to the Veteran.” 

 

While the VA does not pay for the adoption or purchase of a trained service dog, there are many organizations whose mission is to help veterans obtain and learn to work with these canine companions. The VA, however, does provide, for qualifying veterans living with PTSD, a Veterinary Health Benefit and equipment for the working life of the trained PTSD service dog. This benefit is administered via the Offices of Mental Health Services and Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service at [email protected] and once a veteran is approved they are directed to an ADI-accredited agency to apply for a service dog. The VA does NOT pay for grooming, boarding, food or other routine expenses associated with dog ownership.

 

Among the many reputable and amazing organizations dedicated to helping match veterans with highly-skilled service dogs, including specialized PTSD service dogs, is K9s for Warriors. K9s for Warriors rescues and trains shelter dogs to be paired as service dogs for warriors with service-connected PostTraumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury and/or military sexual Trauma.The goal of their work is helping to end veteran suicide and return our nation’s brave veterans to a life of independence and dignity. They are the nation’s largest provider of service dogs for disabled American veterans. To date, the organization has rescued over 1,000 shelter dogs and paired them with over 600 veterans in need. 

The non-profit organization provides PTSD service dogs of the highest quality at no cost to those participating in the  program in order to help restore their physical and emotional independence.  Their focus is on healing – helping the veteran and paired service dog build a bond to facilitate healing and recovery.  As the healing takes place, the reintegration to society begins. Warriors can return to their communities with a new “leash” on life as productive citizens who make a positive difference. After completing their three-week training program the veterans have gained the emotional means to repair their relationship with themselves, their families and their friends. 

Roughly 90% of their service dogs come from shelters or are owner-surrendered. Instead of a life of abandonment or euthanasia, they are given a new purpose.  With each graduate pair, K9’s for Warriors save two lives; they rescue the dog, and the dog rescues the warrior. 

Currently, K9’s for Warriors works exclusively with veterans disabled serving during or after 9/11/01. While the disability does not need to be combat related, applicants must have a verified, clinical diagnosis of PTSD, TBI, or MST to qualify for the program. At this time, K9s For Warriors does not provide Service Dogs to individuals who are legally blind or hearing impaired. They accept applications from all 50 states. Before being matched with their new PTSD service dog, applicants participate in a phone interview to assess their needs, discuss their lifestyle, work environment, personality and family. Veterans also must agree to a background check before acceptance into the program and meeting their dog. Experts working with the organization pair candidates with the service dog best suited for them. Veterans do not get to choose their dog nor supply their own dog to the K9s for Warriors for training.  

Once accepted, the training program takes 21 days to complete. Veterans travel to one of the organization’s two campuses in Florida for the duration of the training. Since this is a full immersion program, veterans stay and have their meals at the campus. During this three week period humans and canines learn to work together and bond to each other in order to effectively mitigate the precise needs of the veteran. 

 

PTSD service dogs can be specifically trained to calm their veteran when they are having a flashback or panic attack, use their bodies to prevent their veteran from feeling anxious and uncomfortable when out in society and alert them to sounds and lights that may go unnoticed when they are in the midst of an episode, like a smoke or house alarm.They can remind their veteran to take their medications, provide emotional support that may help lower instances of substance abuse and so much more. Many people, veterans living with PTSD, and otherwise find comfort in the unconditional love a dog provides and have an easier time allowing them to provide that comfort, companionship and assistance than with another person aiding them. 

For more information about the K9’s for Warriors organization,  visit https://www.k9sforwarriors.org/

 

 

 

Substance Use Disorders Among Military Veterans

Substance Use Disorders Among Military Veterans

Contributed by Rosemary Williams, Silvermist Recovery

Substance abuse is a significant problem among U.S. military veterans. According to a study published in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, veterans are more likely to use alcohol and report heavy alcohol use than their non-veteran counterparts.1

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that alcohol abuse is the most widespread problem among soldiers and veterans. Additionally, prescription drug misuse is on the rise among veterans, with opioids being prescribed at increasing rates for chronic pain.

A number of services and interventions are available through the military to help veterans recover from a substance use disorder. These include VA Medical Centers around the nation, although veterans must be connected to a center to receive help. Many private rehab facilities offer specialized services aimed at veterans and address a range of issues faced by members of the military today.

The stigma of addiction impacts our service members, with active service military members and veterans being reluctant to admit to a substance abuse problem. Fear of what others will think and denial that there’s a problem are other common reasons why veterans may decline to get help for an addiction.

 

The Scary Statistics of Drug Abuse and PTSD among our Veterans

75% of veterans who have experienced trauma from violence or abuse report problems with drinking and alcoholism.

33% of those who have lived through disasters, traumatic accidents, or serious illnesses report problems with drinking and alcohol abuse.

Alcoholism is more common among those who have chronic pain or continuing serious health problems due to traumatic experiences in their past or PTSD.

500,000 veterans with PTSD received treatment from the VA in 2011

27% of veterans who have received care from the VA for PTSD have a substance abuse disorder.

35% of veterans with an SUD (substance use disorder) also suffer from co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder.

20% of Veterans from our wars in the middle east suffer from PTSD.

Between 60% and 80% of Vietnam veterans have a problem with alcohol use.

Veterans age 65 or older who have PTSD are at an elevated risk for suicide if they also suffer from depression or have a problem with alcohol.

Soldiers, Addiction, and the Struggle for Help

TRANSCRIPT
Every year 20,000 soldiers are go to the Army’s substance abuse clinics they go there either because they’re sent by their commanders because they’ve had some kind of alcohol or drug-related problem or they go there because they simply need help at the clinics they get screened and assess to find out whether they have any kind of drug or alcohol related problems. Psychologist wanted to cure who just retired as the director of clinical services for the army program talks about what that program has to accomplish the mission of the clinical ASEP is to support army readiness through providing clinical services to the soldiers who are impaired with substance abuse issues after 14 years of war America’s soldiers can be suffering from any number of issues they can have post-traumatic stress disorder traumatic brain injury be having chronic pain with wounds or injuries and they may even have thoughts of suicide a nexus for these problems can be the abuse of alcohol or pain medication in terms of trends we see particular drugs becoming popular in some locations but the most abused drug is alcohol still and it’s been that way practically forever in the Army in 2010 the Army shifted his program for treatment of soldiers from the Surgeon General’s Office to the installation management command the people who run Garrison’s what followed after that was that they lost a lot of talented counselors and clinical directors and the quality of care suffered one result one a cure says if many of the soldiers should get help we’re missed last year over 7,000 soldiers were screamed and not enrolled that is considerably larger than the number of soldiers in the Brigade Combat Team so it’s it really is an issue of concern the consequences of leaving a soldier to languish and alcohol abuse or drug abuse can be tragic some of the soldiers that were screened and not enrolled have gone on to commit acts of violence and sometimes have killed themselves after that as well so while we can’t say that we could have saved folks we can say that we need to do a better job of treating them here explain as it is possible to fix this problem but it takes a collaborative effort it takes integrated services to help soldiers that can have a group of problems all happening at one time a lot of collaboration is required in treating substance abuse because many times there are numerous health factors that have to be addressed and the soldier has to be treated as a whole person and not just treating one part at one place I’m not even talking to other providers the mourn this story visit usatoday.com you

Veterans, Trauma and Addiction

Combat veterans have a high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Each year, around 12 percent of veterans who served in the Gulf War, 20 percent who served in Iraq, and 30 percent who served in Vietnam develop PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.2

Additionally, 23 percent of female veterans reporting being the victim of a sexual assault while serving in the military. In general, half of women who are sexually assaulted will develop PTSD, which is a major risk factor for substance abuse and addiction. All told, up to 75 percent of veterans who have endured trauma from sexual assault or combat report problematic drinking problems.

 

In 2008, 22% of U.S. Officers in Afghanistan and Iraq suffered from PTSD or depression and only around half of them were treated. As a result, healthcare costs were $ 923 million. If everyone received quality treatment immediately, that cost would have been reduced to $ 785 million.

The link between trauma and addiction is well-established. A study in the journal Addictive Behaviors points out that about half of people in recovery from an addiction have a history of PTSD.3 One in six veterans have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the point it negatively impacts their daily lives. It’s common for people with PTSD to self-medicate symptoms with drugs or alcohol. Symptoms of PTSD may occur immediately after a trauma, or they may set in months or even years later.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Nightmares
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Flashbacks
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

Risk Factors that can lead to Veteran Addiction

There are certain risk factors identified that can indicate if a veteran is more like to struggle with a substance use disorder(SUD) in the future. PTSD is the most common risk factor, however other risk factors include:

  • Insomnia
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Relationship or problems at home
  • Isolation

While in the military, you work with a team during battle. During treatment, medical professionals become the team supports to address the mental health concern or substance use disorder.

Trauma-Informed Treatment

For veterans who have experienced trauma or have symptoms of PTSD, a trauma-informed treatment programoffers the best chances for successful recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.4 A trauma-informed approach to treatment seeks to increase a sense of safety.

The trauma informed approach recognizes that:

  • The impact of trauma is widespread and affects all areas of an individual’s life
  • There are many pathways to recovery, and a holistic approach is best
  • The current body of knowledge about trauma must be incorporated into policies, practices and procedures
  • Actively preventing re-traumatization is an important focus in treatment

Truama informed treatment draws on research-based, trauma-focused therapies that help individuals:

  • Accept their experiences rather than avoid them
  • Improve the way they interact with their thoughts and emotions
  • Develop tolerance for distress
  • Reduce suicidal thoughts
  • Achieve feelings of completeness and freedom
  • Develop control over thoughts, emotions and behaviors

Trauma-focused therapies include acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and mindfulness-based meditation.

Medications Used in Treatment

In some cases, veterans may be prescribed medications to assist with the detox process or to help maintain sobriety. Medications frequently used during the detox process include:

Medications used to help maintain sobriety after detox include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone
  • Methadone
  • Disulfiram
  • Acamprosate

When Is It Time to Get Help?

Once alcohol or drug use becomes compulsive despite the problems it causes, professional help is recommended to end the addiction for the long-term. People who meet two or more of the following criteria are diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which may include heavy substance abuse, addiction, and/or dependence. 

Substance Use Disorder Categories

MILD: by meeting two to three of the following criteria

MODERATE: by meeting four or five criteria

SEVERE: by meeting six or more of the criteria.


  1. Using the substance in ways that puts you or others in dangerous situations
  2. Experiencing relationship problems related to the substance abuse
  3. Neglecting responsibilities at home, work or school because of your substance abuse
  4. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using suddenly
  5. Needing increasingly larger doses to get the same effect
  6. Abusing drugs or alcohol for a longer period of time or in larger amounts than you intended
  7. Wanting or trying to cut down or quit but finding you can’t
  8. Spending a lot of time using or recovering from using drugs or alcohol
  9. Experiencing physical or mental health problems as a result of your substance abuse
  10. Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  11. Experiencing cravings for the substance

Once alcohol or drug use becomes compulsive despite the problems it causes, professional help is recommended to end the addiction for the long-term. People who meet two or more of the following criteria are diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which may include heavy substance abuse, addiction, and/or dependence. A substance use disorder is characterized as mild by meeting two to three of the following criteria, moderate by meeting four or five criteria, or severe by meeting six or more of the criteria.

What to Expect from Treatment

Getting help for an addiction can dramaticallyimprove your quality of life and sense of well-being. It may also save your life. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 6,000 veterans die by suicide each year.5 In 2016, the suicide rate for veterans was 26.1 per 100,000 individuals, compared with a rate of 17.4 per 100,000 among non-veterans.

Drug and alcohol abuse can increase the risk of suicide, and it can lead to a range of serious physical and mental health problems. Getting help reduces these risks and leads to a happier, more fulfilling life. A new military study shows that non-medical counseling offered through military resources resulted in improvement for more than three months after counseling ended.

Counseling is frequently offered through military organizations, however, you have the freedom to accept treatment at a civilian facility.12 For active service members, it is possible for your commander to find out about your treatment through insurance claims or referral requests. Commander involvement may be encouraged as the support of others during recovery can contribute to your success.

Rehab works for most people who choose a high-quality program and participate fully in their treatment plan.

Recovery starts with detox, which is followed by addiction treatment. When treatment is complete, an individualized aftercare plan helps you navigate the early weeks and months of solo recovery.

 

How to Find Help

Veterans and active-duty servicemen and women from all branches of the military can find help for a substance use disorder through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mental health services.6

Active-duty Army personnel can contact the Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) for information and treatment resources.7

Active-duty Navy can find support, education and treatment resources through the Navy Alcohol Abuse Prevention (NAAP) program.8

The Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) program offers a substance abuse program for active-duty Marines.9

For active-duty Air Force personnel, the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) program provides information and treatment resources for those needing help ending an addiction for good.10

Another healing resource for military personnel is a Strong Bonds retreat, which helps to increase resilience, reduce stressors and tighten family bonds. While Strong Bonds retreats don’t address or treat substance use disorders, they can reduce some of the factors that contribute to substance abuse and addiction.11 Retreats are available for singles, couples, and families.

Housing And Other Help

There are resources available to help veterans secure housing, employment, healthcare and other needs. An individualized treatment plan developed with a case manager should identify and connect you to helpful resources to resolve concerns beyond mental health or a substance use disorder. Some resources include:

HUD-VASH is a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that connects veterans experiencing homelessness with housing resources to resolve the housing emergency via rent assistance. The program uses the Housing Choice Voucher Program to assist with the cost of re-housing veterans into rental units.

SSVF helps veterans secure permanent housing solutions with supportive assistance and case management.

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) services help with job training, employment, resume development, and job seeking skills coaching. There is also assistance avilable for veterans looking to start a business or independent living services for those unable to work.

Speak with a case manager about your individual needs to create a plan that will work for you.

VA and Vet Center facilities can be found online at www.va.gov and www.vetcenter.va.gov

Hope is the Foundation of Recovery

There are many pathways to recovery, but at its very foundation is hope, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Whether you’re a veteran struggling with a substance use disorder or a loved one trying to help your hero, holding on to hope for a better future guides your pathway forward. A high-quality, holistic treatment program is one pathway that’s research-based and proven to help people end a substance use disorder once and for all. Treatment really does work, and it can work for you.

 

This publication is provided by Silvermist Recovery.


Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5587184/
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2720425/
  3. https://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma-interventions
  4. https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/data-sheets/OMHSP_National_Suicide_Data_Report_2005-2016_508.pdf
  5. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp
  6. https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/res-vatreatmentprograms.asp
  7. https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/my-fort/asap-services
  8. https://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/NAAP/Pages/default.aspx
  9. https://www.usmc-mccs.org/services/support/substance-abuse/
  10. https://www.airforcemedicine.af.mil/Resources/Health-Promotion/Drug-Abuse/
  11. https://strongbonds.jointservicessupport.org/
  12. https://www.militaryonesource.mil/health-wellness/mental-health/substance-abuse-and-addiction/military-policy-and-treatment-for-substance-use

MilitaryConnection.com Launches the Veteran Art Connection

MilitaryConnection.com Launches the Veteran Art Connection
For Immediate Release: February 14, 2019
Contact: Kris Galasso
[email protected]
 

  • VeteranArtConnection.com features an online gallery of work created exclusively by Veterans of our Armed Services suffering from PTSD
  • Online Gallery has pieces available for purchase
  • The Veteran artist gets 50% of the sales after production costs and the art therapy organization gets 10%
  • VeteranArtConnection.com turns art therapy into an entrepreneurial method for Veterans

 
MilitaryConnection.com is pleased to announce the launch of Veterans Art Connection, a joint partnership with Visions For Vets, that features an online gallery of art produced by America’s military heroes. The artwork, created by Veterans as a method of therapeutic release, will be featured and available for purchase in an online gallery.
 
Visions for Vets, based in St. Louis, Missouri, is a program designed by a Veteran for other Veterans that utilizes art therapy techniques as a treatment for PTSD, lifelong disabilities or any other issues that have been a result of a soldier’s military service. Prior to now, Visions for Vets has been a safe outlet for self-expression and a critical step in the healing process. Through this partnership with MilitaryConnection.com, Veterans are able to turn the results of their therapy into an entrepreneurial opportunity.
 
Art therapy has been proven to be an effective therapeutic method in the relief and reduction of tension and anxiety. In the instances of our retired servicemen and women, it also provides the opportunity for self-expression, healing and achievement of self-awareness. Many of these Veterans have been on disability and unable to work since leaving active duty. The Veteran Art Connection supplies these men and women with a unique opportunity to heal their invisible wounds through the power of art while establishing a possible revenue stream for their future.
 
MilitaryConnection.com is the “Go-To” site or the one-stop shop for Veterans, active military and their families. The site features a real-time job postings board with new employment opportunities for candidates across the country.In addition to the job postings board, MilitaryConnection.com is loaded with information that has proven helpful for active and retired military, military spouses, families, retirees and more. From writing a competitive resume and cover letter to preparing yourself for the interview; from finding a local place to get your free flu shot to picking an exercise that works best for you, MilitaryConnection.com has your needs covered.
 
MIlitaryConnection.com is the “Go-To” site for Veterans. With offices in Missouri, California and Maryland.

Manes and Reins: A Gold Star Sister’s Journey to Healing

Manes and Reins:  A Gold Star Sister’s Journey to Healing

By guest contributor Renee Nickell

I had heard the term PTSD as it related to war heroes, but I did not know much about its impacts on civilians. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental affliction that can cause one to be hyper-vigilant, aggressive, easily angered, subjected to nightmares, depression, anxiety and more. After my brother, Major Samuel Griffith, was suddenly and tragically killed in Afghanistan, I did not even realize I, personally, had PTSD.

After several years of traditional therapy without much improvement, I decided to pursue equine therapy. With the assistance of trained therapists who help military and combat veterans and their families heal from the effects of PTSD, I was able to face my own level of PTSD after years of struggling.

Horses are capable of mirroring human emotion, allowing the patient to become more self-aware when feelings cannot easily be put into words. While I was skeptical in the beginning of therapy, the connection with the horse quickly brought comfort I hadn’t found anywhere else.  I must admit: I was absolutely terrified at the start of my journey. I did not know what to expect from the horses or the sessions, and for me, that was scary. Over time, the bond that is formed with your gentle giant increases your confidence and ability to face painful circumstances in far less time than traditional therapy.

Equine therapy is now being used to treat various forms of illness, disabilities and medical conditions to include diabetes, autism, blindness, epilepsy, addictions and more.  Horses do not have the ability to lie, therefore, the patient cannot manipulate the horse beyond its true feelings. This is extremely beneficial when building trust between the patient and the horse.

Gold Star siblings, in general, tend to place our grief on the back burner so that we may help support the surviving spouse or our parents through the grieving process.  While each member of the family deals with their own grief separately, a sibling often postpones their grief, sometimes for years. This delay is to the detriment of the sibling and the family unit around them.  PTSD can last for years, even decades. I have spoken to siblings whose brothers were killed in Vietnam and there is still a level of PTSD.

Not only did I suffer from PTSD, but my teenage daughter did as well.  The day my brother was killed, she stepped into my role. The trauma was debilitating for me and it was my daughter that helped take care of everything that day, including protecting her younger siblings from the impact of the news.  The weeks after, from retrieving his body at Dover to the funeral and then trying to resume somewhat of a normal life, was incredibly traumatic for all of us.

Our family is fortunate that we were able to find the necessary help to move us forward in our grief journey. Not only myself, but my veteran husband and my daughter benefited from equine therapy. We were able to heal as a family and face issues from the past that otherwise weren’t being addressed. We are not talking about playing with horses here! Equine therapy is a lot of hard work and deep soul searching. It can be quite painful to face the things we long to forget, even childhood traumas.  This is why it is so important to find a reputable equine therapist who is skilled in treating PTSD and other mental health disorders.

There are many organizations that are non-profit and will assist a veteran and family for free or low-cost.  Many even take Tricare insurance. If you or a loved one struggle with PTSD and feel you can benefit from equine therapy, I would recommend searching your area for licensed equine therapists.  We are now in a 17-year war with countless veterans suffering from PTSD, and there are many organizations that are ready and willing to help them recover to live as best a normal and peaceful life as possible.

Sam cockpit

(Major Samuel Griffith, USMC, was an F/A-18 aviator and Forward Air Controller.  

He was killed December 14, 2011, in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of OEF.)

Author Headshot

Renee Nickell is the author of “Always My Hero: The Road to Hope & Healing Following 

Her Brother’s Death in Afghanistan.” For more about Renee, go to www.reneenickell.com.

Pairing Pups and Veterans with PTSD

services pups

By Debbie Gregory.

With an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses within the veteran community, the Department of Veterans Affairs is joining forces with non-profit Canine Companions to study how service dogs might be able to aid those struggling with the disorder.

The joint pilot program is launching at Canine Companions’ Northwest Training Center in Santa Rosa, CA, with the initial participants being chosen within 90 miles of the Santa Rosa facility.

The dogs will be trained in tasks including nightmare interruption, turning on lights, retrieving items, and supporting their handler in crowded public situations that might provoke anxiety for individuals with PTSD.

In the future, Canine Companions hope to expand the program to include first responders (police, fire and emergency medical personnel) with PTSD. They also hope to expand the program geographically.

The study will piggyback on a less formal program the VA kicked off in 2014, although this study will be more comprehensive and more tightly controlled.

“We believe that dogs can be trained in tasks that can help mitigate aspects of PTSD and help someone in their process of recovery along with other resources that exist already,” said instructor Sarah Birman.

Canine Companions will choose the dogs that will participate in the program based on their temperament, confidence and energy levels. They will need to be able to resist reacting to outside stimuli. The organization hopes to place some 20 dogs during the first year of the study.

“Service dogs are another tool that is available to veterans,” she said. “I think the more options that we make available to people the more people will be able to hopefully find something that works for them. PTSD can be an incredibly debilitating condition and really tremendously isolating, and so, if through these dogs we can make a difference in the lives of even just a handful of veterans, then it will absolutely have been worth it.”

Canine Companions has been providing service dogs for people with physical disabilities since 1975.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

The Most Stressful Job in America – Being in the Military

combat stress

By Debbie Gregory.

Stress. It’s a big part of our daily lives, and much of it derives from the kind of work we do. Some jobs, naturally, involve more stress than others for obvious reasons, including the potential for physical harm.

As recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown, performing on the battlefield is grueling work that can lead to life-altering injuries and often times, death. So it’s little wonder that being a member of one of the armed services is one of the most stressful jobs there is.

Soldiers are trained to fight. Basic training is a process designed to develop skills which will keep a combatant alive and fighting long after he or she might have given up under more normal circumstances.

But when military service ends, there is no basic “untraining.”

From meeting the physical demands of working in special operations and infantry to armor and field artillery, many troops face psychological problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A further complication for military personnel is the difficulty many face in transitioning back to civilian life. Besides transferring their skills to the civilian job market once their service is completed, servicemembers often lose the focus of the mission, the camaraderie, the support and the structure provided by the military.

While PTSD has become a much-discussed affliction, transition stress, a seemingly more prevalent problem, is going largely overlooked.

Firefighters, airline pilots and police officers, ranked second, third and fourth respectively, also face a lot of stress in their occupations, but they are also much better compensated than those who serve.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Can Transition Stress Be A Bigger Problem Than PTSD?

trans123

By Debbie Gregory.

Stress is the enemy of mental and physical health. It is believed that most veterans experience high levels of stress during the transition to civilian life, however transition stress has received very little attention in the shadow of post-traumatic stress disorder.

While PTSD has become a much-discussed affliction, transition stress, a seemingly more prevalent problem, is going largely overlooked.

The crucial role of transition stress in the lives of military veterans is examined in a recent essay by George A. Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia Teachers College, and former Army officer and Ph.D student Meaghan Mobbs.

In their abstract, Bonanno and Mobbs say that the wider range of challenges, rewards, successes, and failures that transitioning veterans might experience contribute to transition stress, which can be mistaken for PTSD.

While serving, there is the mission, the job, the camaraderie and the bonds. When servicemembers transition to civilian life, that sense of purpose and fulfillment can be lost, leading to anxiety, depression, and other behavioral difficulties.

“For our generation of veterans, for us being an all-volunteer force, we all go in during a period of emerging adulthood,” said Mobbs. “We’re typically asking ourselves the existential questions: Who am I? What do I want to do? What’s the meaning of life? And the military provides a really ready answer for that. They tell you: You have purpose. What you’re doing is meaningful. You matter.”

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) provides information, tools and training to ensure service members and their spouses are prepared for the next step in civilian life whether pursuing additional education, finding a job in the public or private sector or starting their own business.

But often times, this week-long class doesn’t check all of the boxes.

Bonanno thinks that a mentor-based approach, with mentors assigned to veterans as they leave the military to just help with the daily things of life and understanding the transition process would provide great value.

“Some of the difficult things are just reintegrating with friends and families and managing those relationships.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Due to Federal Law, VA Won’t Research Effects of Marijuana on PTSD and Chronic Pain

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Due to federal restrictions, the Department of Veterans Affairs will not conduct research on the effectiveness of medical cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Although doing so would not be illegal, there would be a lot of red tape to cut through.

The announcement is a huge setback for those who have advocated for medical cannabis to be a potential alternative to narcotic and opioid-heavy treatment plans that many VA patients are enrolled in.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. According to a recent American Legion poll,  82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, and 92% supported expanding research into the medical benefits of the drug.

Additionally, a number of veterans organizations have been pushing for research into the drug as a possible treatment option for many of the ailments that affect veterans, most notably PTSD and chronic pain.

Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical cannabis programs

The news that the VA will not conduct research into medical cannabis comes just after the department broadened its guidelines for patients to openly discuss their cannabis use with VA physicians. While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

New VA Online Wizard Aims to Upgrade Your Discharge

va vets

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a new online wizard that will assist veterans who are seeking to upgrade their military discharges.

By going to the VA’s Vets.gov benefits website, participants go through a series of questions that guides them, step by step, through the upgrade process based on their individual situation.

This is an especially good tool for veterans who are trying to correct or upgrade “bad paper” discharges. Veterans with bad paper discharges have long complained that they were drummed out of the service with no consideration of their invisible wounds.

All branches of the military consider a strong case for a discharge upgrade if applicants can show their discharge was connected to any of these categories:

Mental health conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Sexual assault or harassment during military service

Sexual orientation (including under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy)

By answering a series of questions, users get customized step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction. If their application goes through and the discharge is upgraded, these veterans will become eligible for the VA benefits they earned during their period of service.

If a previous upgrade application was denied, users can apply again, especially if the application is significantly different from the original. For example, the applicant may have additional evidence that wasn’t available during the original application was processed, or the Department of Defense (DoD) may have issued new rules regarding discharges. (DoD rules changed for discharges related to PTSD, TBI, and mental health in 2014, military sexual harassment and assault in 2017, and sexual orientation in 2011.)

The wizard will also assist those who require an updated DD214 or DD215 to reflect an upgrade.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.