Approximately 11% to 20% of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in any given year, says the Department of Veteran Affairs. PTSD is a leading cause of impaired quality of life and daily function among veterans.
Now, researchers have studied the ability of trained service dogs to help war veterans cope with the ravages of PTSD. The growing body of evidence points to the incredible benefits of these working dogs in helping veterans cope with some of the often-frightening symptoms of PTSD.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), new legislation called the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act that was put into law last August, requires the secretary of veteran affairs to establish a five-year program to provide service dogs to veterans with the disorder.
“We know service dogs are a proven life-changing and life-saving form of therapy for our veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress,” said U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, a former U.S. Navy pilot herself. “With this new law, we are addressing the high-cost barrier that prevents many from accessing these incredible dogs.”
Research conducted by Maggie O’Haire, assistant professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine found that veterans with a service dog exhibited significantly lower overall PTSD severity, including increased overall psychological well-being. They also had a better ability to cope with painful flashbacks and experienced fewer nightmares and less sleep disturbance, says the AVMA.
Participants in O’Haire’s study also suffered less anxiety, depression, and anger and experienced higher levels of social interaction and companionship. The veterans were recruited from a database of individuals supported by K9s For Warriors, a nonprofit organization that provides veterans with service dogs.
Sometimes the rescued become the rescuers.
According to TODAY, a charity called Semper-Fi Service Dogs rescues shelter dogs and then trains the animals to help veterans suffering from PTSD. Sgt. Jack Lord, who served in Iraq, says before he was paired with Saazi, a therapy dog trained by Semper-Fi, the sound of a blown tire used to transport him back into the war zone.
But since Saazi arrived, his triggers have been reduced. “She’s there to help me with my anxiety. She’s there to be my buddy,” he said.
In the meantime, the VA will partner with nonprofits for the newly authorized pilot plan to provide service dogs to veterans diagnosed with PTSD. The vets will assist in the training and may adopt the dog at the end of the program. The bill also authorizes the VA to provide these dogs to veterans suffering from mental illnesses.
According to K9’s For Warriors, roughly 20 veterans die by suicide every day.
“We commend the White House for supporting this bill as a critical step in combatting veteran suicide, and we’re confident in the path ahead for service dogs ultimately becoming a covered VA benefit to veterans with PTSD,” said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9’s For Warriors.
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