Many of us say that our dogs are our best friends, which is true, but for some people, they are way more than that. They are the key to a better life as well.
For veterans, service dogs and companion dogs provide more than just emotional support, especially for people dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Specialized service dogs not only perform specific tasks that help with these conditions, but recent studies show that they can also reduce the amount of medication some veterans require for treatment and alleviate their overall symptoms.
While not every circumstance is unique to military service, there are distinct moments in a veteran’s life when a companion dog or service animal might be just what the doctor ordered. In honor of Veteran’s Day, we want to take a moment to shed light on the care and training of more service dogs, so that every veteran in need can benefit from this life-saving bond.
Data About Veterans
The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has reported that approximately 30% of veterans experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from experiencing war and/or assault.
Other veterans may have sustained an injury during their time in the military, or experience vision or hearing loss. If a veteran is experiencing significant physical, mental, or mobile limitations in their day-to-day life due to these disabilities, they may qualify for a Service Dog or an ESA.
Many veterans upon separating from service feel lost without the structure, discipline and routine associated with military culture. Some return to a life that they no longer recognize. Still others feel disconnected even from close friends or family and many struggle to translate their military skills into a civilian job. Overall more than a quarter of veterans report difficulty re-entering life after the military. This figure is higher among post-9/11 veterans, as well as those who were seriously injured or experienced a traumatic event.
How a Veteran Benefits from Dog Ownership:
- Caring for a pet provides structure and purpose – a reason to get up in the morning – and aligns with the mission focus and sense of duty that typifies military personnel.
- A pet is someone to talk to who always listens, always loves you and never spills your secrets. Veterans who have difficulty sharing their military experiences with even those closest to them are often able to talk to their four-legged friends.
- By demanding attention and affection, companion pets and service animals force their guardians to focus on the animal’s needs, displacing behaviors where people dwell on their own circumstances and problems. A pet’s needs demand action, whether it is to be fed, groomed or out for daily walks – and these demands and their urgent needs (ex: “pet me now”) help veterans coping with psychological trauma regain a sense of purpose, confidence and optimism in their lives.
- Companion pets can even help veterans re-establish relationships with people by acting as a social bridge, leading some to call them “surrogate humans.”
Programs That Can Help
Patriot Service Dogs (PSD) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to pairing well-trained service dogs with veterans free-of-charge. Any honorably discharged veteran with a physical or mental disability is eligible to apply, as they do not favor any specific era of service or require veterans to be combat wounded. Since 2009, they have grown to over 100 active volunteers. They are located in Central Florida but place dogs throughout the United States.
Many brave troops return home with scars – both seen and unseen – that make it difficult to transition back to civilian life. At the same time, millions of wonderful animals wait in shelters for a forever home. Pets for Vets is the bridge that brings them together. When a Veteran is matched with the right pet, both lives change for the better. The Veteran saves the animal and welcomes him/her into a loving home. The pet provides the Veteran with unconditional love and support, easing stress, depression, loneliness and anxiety. Together, they share a Super Bond® that provides them both with a whole new “leash” on life.
In order to obtain a service dog through the VA, the veteran needs to follow certain steps. First, the need to meet with a healthcare provider. Then, they need to adopt and train their service dog. Lastly, they would have to apply for the correct VA benefits.Upon approval for a service dog, veterans can now have their service dog enrolled inVeterinary Health Benefits. These benefits include comprehensive treatment and wellness checks, emergency care, immunizations, and illness treatment for the dog that will be serving the veteran. This is to ensure that the service dog remains in good health to best serve the veteran. They will also provide the proper equipment needed for the dog, such as aharness or vest.
Their vision is to end animal homelessness in the United States while giving military veterans and their families the greatest “thank you” of all: the extraordinary love of a companion pet. They can make this happen through their nationwide shelter and veterinary networks, military and veteran organizations, and a public that values the lives of both the most vulnerable and heroic among us.
In the end, military veterans and their families aren’t the only ones who benefit from companion pets. Dogs and cats who were homeless, abandoned, neglected or even abused have a second chance at life. It’s one of those rare situations in life where everyone wins.