Posts

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/

 

 

 

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.

DeSantis Introduces PAWS Act to Help Veterans with PTSD Get Service Dogs

paws act

By Debbie Gregory.

Inspired by the story of former Corporal Cole Thomas Lyle, USMC, and his service dog Kaya, Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL) has introduced the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act to expand access to service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress.

The PAWS Act would establish a pilot program within the Veterans Administration that would provide a trained service dog to veterans who have severe PTSD. Under the bill the VA would pay third-party dog training organizations to provide the dogs to the veterans in the program.

“Thousands of our post-9/11 veterans carry the invisible burden of post-traumatic stress, and there is an overwhelming need to expand the available treatment options,” said DeSantis, a Naval Reserve Officer.

The bill would authorize $27,000 for the VA to spend on each dog from an organization accredited by Assistance Dog International. In total the PAWS Act allocates $10 million to fund the pilot program.

“The VA should use every tool at their disposal to support and treat our veterans, including the specialized care offered by service dogs,” said DeSantis.“The PAWS Act is a simple bill that could have a dramatic – and potentially life-saving – effect on the lives of many. As we face an epidemic of veteran suicides, we must make sure that all of our returning servicemembers are honored and taken care of, no matter the wounds they bear.”

To maintain eligibility, including VA-provided veterinary health insurance for the service dog, the veteran must see a VA primary care doctor or mental health care provider at least quarterly.

Corporal Cole Lyle, a major proponent of the bill who served six years in the Marine Corps, said Kaya helps him overcome the struggles of PTSD on a daily basis.

“The difficulties I had transitioning back into civilian life stemmed out of roughly the last two months of the deployment, when I was volunteering at an understaffed trauma hospital in my spare time on base. When I got home, I would have recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks.”

Kaya is specially trained to wake Lyle up when he is having a nightmare, or lick him to calm him down when he is in the early stages of an anxiety attack. Lyle has a Change.org petition you can sign here.

The Government Accountability Office will be charged with conducting a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

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.

Military Connection: Canine Connection Therapy Helps Wounded Warriors

wcc

By Debbie Gregory.

Dogs have always been called “man’s best friend” as they are known for their loyalty and companionship. Voltaire wrote, “It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defense and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful: it is the best friend man can have.”

Walter Reed National Medical Center is currently using dogs as companion therapists for Veterans needing help adjusting to civilian life. A three-year-old yellow Labrador retriever named Ron is one of their dogs.

Dressed in a Navy camo harness, Ron is one of the first service dogs to graduate from the training program of Warrior Canine Connection. While not all of the dogs make it through the training and graduate, the ones that do get placed with a permanent companion, or “career,” as the trainers refer to it. They are placed as service dogs for mobility-impaired Veterans, therapy dogs at medical centers, and even as military family support dogs, where their job is to help the family adjust to their service member’s PTSD. The dogs that don’t graduate still make great pets.

Ron, who was in Warrior Canine Connection’s first graduating class, can sense when his companions need soothing.  He will fulfill their needs by lying at their feet, putting his head in their laps, or doing some tricks to lighten the mood.

As to why the dogs have such a positive impact on those they work with, Capt. Bob Koffman (Ret.), chief medical consultant at the nonprofit said, “It possibly has to do with their incredibly keen sense of smell and whatever neurotransmitters or hormones we release. We’re looking at the biomarkers that are released and the chemical reactions that they’re cuing from.”

Since 2011, when Warrior Canine Connection was founded, 57 dogs have participated in the program, with 11 being placed in careers. Their third and largest class will be graduating come September.

Their efforts have helped 3,000 service members, and they aren’t slowing down, with most of the dogs in the first class having found success.

A black lab named Birdie was lucky enough to keep his foster parent. During his training, Birdie stayed with Marine Veteran Jon Gordon. Gordon, who suffers from PTSD and TBI, had driven over three roadside bombs in six weeks during a 2010 deployment to Afghanistan. The two bonded so strongly that Gordon was able to keep Birdie as his placement dog. They live in Michigan, and teach classes about service dogs at the local VA.

Birdie comforts Gordon in his sleep, and has been able to help Gordon better himself as a father to his 8-year-old daughter.

“Before him, I was in a stalemate, a pity party, thinking. ‘Why did this happen? Why did I get blown up?’ ’’Gordon said. “Now I see that I need to move forward.”

As with other service dogs, Birdie has made Gordon’s life more tolerable.

We often thank servicemen for their sacrifices for the country, and now we would like to thank the dogs for their services in assisting our wounded warriors back to a comfortable civilian life.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Canine Connection Therapy Helps Wounded Warriors: By Debbie Gregory