Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

Jun 30, 2017

Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

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A few years ago, I was working in food service and a man with a service dog stepped up to the sandwich counter to order. I immediately started looking for a sign of his disability – was he blind? Deaf? Physically handicapped? He placed his order, and I found no evidence of any disability. As our interaction was taking place, another customer got in line behind him, and his service dog immediately placed itself between him and the next customer. He must have read the questions in my eyes, because he gently explained that he was a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and that his service dog was trained to help him with stress caused by people getting too close to his personal space. This was the first time that I was exposed to service dogs for veterans with PTSD.

Perhaps you are a veteran, or you have a family member who is a veteran. Maybe you are just a curious bystander like me. Regardless, if you are interested in learning more about service dogs for veterans with PTSD, here are some basic facts about the veteran’s assistance program and how it works.

VA Launches Pilot Program Offering Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

The VA is hoping to learn exactly how, and how much, service dogs can be of help to veterans with mental health issues by launching a pilot program. The study will likely take several years to complete, but the VA is currently looking for veterans who receive care from the VA and are suffering from PTSD, to join the study. Currently, federal law allows the VA to help veterans get service dogs for things like visual, hearing, and mobility impairments. Through the pilot program, the VA is adding chronic mental health issues, which sometimes prevent veterans from leaving their house or living normal lives, under the category of mobility impairment.

The VA is looking to provide 100 service dogs to veterans with mental health issues, and as of May 2017, only 11 veterans were approved for the program and 57 applications were under review. The VA won’t be providing the dogs but will connect veterans to an outside service to select a dog. There are many private organizations out there that provide service dogs for veterans with PTSD, such as Patriot Paws or This Able Veteran, but this pilot program specifically allows the VA to cover the service for qualified veterans instead of them having to pay for the service out-of-pocket. 

Benefits of Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD 

Although there is still little research to say for sure how, or how much, service dogs can help people with mental health issues, there is a movement happening across the country to give people suffering from PTSD or anxiety access to service dogs. The thought behind it is that the dog will bring out feelings of love, be a good companion and help to reduce stress. Dogs are also good at taking orders when properly trained, which means they typically respond well to veterans who are used to dishing out military commands.

If you have a dog, or have owned a dog before, you know that they are good at reading their owners and that there is definitely some truth to that old saying, “dog is a man’s best friend.” Veterans who are using service dogs for PTSD are finding that the dog learns what their triggers are and finds ways to calm them or protect them from the threat. For example, the man I witnessed a few years ago in line to order a sub had a service dog who knew he didn’t like people getting too close to him. The dog immediately placed itself between him and another person to make him feel better.

Service dogs for veterans with PTSD are just one of the many ways that PTSD is being treated, but the number of soldiers returning from war and suffering from the aftermath of a shocking experience will only continue to grow as the United States remains in conflict overseas. 

What are your thoughts on service dogs for veterans with PTSD? Do you, or anyone you know, have a story to share about how this service has had a positive impact on mental health?

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