Living with PTSD is often an invisible reality for many Veterans. With a staggering 20-22 estimated Veteran suicides a day, there truly is a need for alternative treatments for Veterans with physical and mental health challenges.
This blog will focus on the mental health side of the conversation. A new and groundbreaking therapy being used for Veterans are service dogs. The first question many might have is what a service dog is? Other questions might include, how can service dogs help Veterans with mental health conditions? Who qualifies for one? How do you get one?
What are service dogs?
Service dogs are specially trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a chronic disability who cannot perform the work or task independently for him or herself. Service dogs can, for example, pick things up, guide people who are blind, alert people who are deaf or pull a wheelchair. They can also remind a person to take prescribed medications and calm a person with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack. It is important to note that service animals are working animals, not pets.
How can service dogs help Veterans with mental health conditions?
Service dogs are trained to a standard, and additional training is usually customized to the individual needs of the Veteran. Most groups that train and place service dogs with qualified Veterans, work with the Veteran and service dog as they learn to work as a team. Goals range from increased physical, emotional and social self-sufficiency. A few examples of some of the tasks service dogs are trained to do include, but are not limited to:
- Alleviate anxiety/distress and provide psycho-emotional grounding by nudging, pawing, and leaning.
- Assist a person in waking from night terrors and nightmares.
- Distract a person from an event or specific maladaptive behavior by nudging, pawing, and licking.
- Bring medication to a person on command or when alerted to do so by a timer/alarm.
- Stand in front of or circle an individual in crowded areas in order to create personal space in a non-aggressive manner.
- Lead an individual safely to a building exit when experiencing an anxiety or panic attack.
- Get help by alerting another person or activate an emergency button or alert system.
A trained PTSD service dog is a tool and is not intended to substitute or replace current therapeutic or medication treatment plan.
I have PTSD. I denied this for a long time, but eventually, I had to seek out treatment. I then went on to explore other options which led me to find a group that works with Veterans with PTSD. Above is Legend, my SDiT (service dog in training), whose namesake is for Navy Seal Chris Kyle. The images above are of another SDiT, Beck, training in an airport and public transportation venues. He will be graduating and then placed with his Veteran in a few weeks.
David Pineda is the VA Claims Insider Brand Ambassador and a retired Army Disabled Veteran. You can contact him at [email protected]