Veterans with PTSD: Why a Dog May be Your Best Friend

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Veterans with PTSD:  Relief may be around the corner.  Practically, every day one sees Veterans with PTSD coming out from under the dark clouds of depression with the support of a canine companion.

Service Dogs and Veterans

I certainly am not qualified to speculate on the benefits that a service dog provides Veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental impairments, but there does appear to be genuine love and understanding between a Veteran and his or her companion dog.

Sadly, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) does not provide “service dogs” to Veterans suffering from PTSD.  In fact, the VA only provides limited benefits to those service members with an approved VA disability:

VA will pay for veterinary care and the equipment (e.g. harness and/or backpack) required for optimal use of the dog. Veterinary care includes prescribed medications, office visits for medical procedures, and dental procedures where the dog is sedated (one sedated dental procedure will be covered annually). Vaccinations should be current when the dog is provided to the Veteran through an accredited agency. Subsequent vaccinations will be covered by VA. Prescribed food will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Veterinary care does not include over-the-counter medications, food, treats and non-sedated dental care. Flea and tick medications are considered over-the-counter and are the responsibility of the Veteran along with over-the-counter dental care products (bones, dental treats, etc.). Grooming, boarding and other routine expenses are not covered.

The VA differentiates between a “guide dog” (for Veterans that are blind) and a “service dog” as follows:  to help those with severe to profound hearing loss by alerting the individual to a variety of sounds or someone with a physical impairment that substantially limits mobility  by assisting in the performance of a wide variety of tasks depending on need and training (e.g. opening doors, retrieving, etc.).

Currently, the VA does not provide Service Dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD because “there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms.”  Studies are now underway to evaluate the benefits of service dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, but these results will not be available for several years.

Nevertheless, many Veterans can attest to the healing benefits of having a service dog regardless of the VA’s propensity to study the issue further.  Found below is a video of a Navy Seal who explains the emotional well-being of his service dog.

While the VA continues its research, many privately-funded organization have sprung up across the United States to provide trained service dogs to many Veterans seeking canine support to help them cope with PTSD and TBI. Found below is a list of just a few of these organizations which provide Veterans with canine support that is still under consideration by the VA.

Train a Dog Save a Warrior:  SFTT’s Rescue Coalition Partner providing service dogs to Veterans dealing with the silent wounds of war.

Paws for Veterans:  A privately-funded program which rescues dogs from shelters and then trains both the Veterans and their service dogs.

Vets Adopt Pets:  A list of several programs across the United States to help pair Veterans with “support” pets.

This Able Veteran:   A service dog program designed to help Veterans cope with PTSD and recover their lives.

Canine Angels USA:  Another program which rescues dogs for animal shelters and trains them to work with Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

As the VA continues to “study” the self-evident benefits of a service dog, many well-intentioned private organizations across the United States are already providing much needed training and support for Veterans seeking a canine companion.

In many cases, these organizations are rescuing dogs for animal shelters to help provide these Veterans with a healing companion.

Thanks to the steadfast dedication of many wonderful people, the lives of countless Veterans have been improved.  On behalf of our Veterans, SFTT thanks you for your continued kindness and generosity!

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Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

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It is not exactly known how many military dogs have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in the service of their country, but most anyone in combat can attest to their valor.  While the number of military dog fatalities dwarfs the estimated 8 million horses that died in WW1, their protective role in combat cannot be underestimated.

Service Dogs and Veterans

While dogs have long served alongside men and women in combat, it is surprising (at least to me) that the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) continues to insist that there is no “clinical evidence” to conclude that service dogs offer any material benefit to Veterans with PTSD:

Owning a dog can lift your mood or help you feel less stressed. Dogs can help people feel better by providing companionship. All dog owners, including those who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can experience these benefits.

Clinically, there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms. Evidence-based therapies and medications for PTSD are supported by research. We encourage you to learn more about these treatments because it is difficult to draw strong conclusions from the few studies on dogs and PTSD that have been done.

Fortunately, many States and private foundations feel differently than the VA about the emotional benefits Veterans may receive with a service dog.  As such, many charitable organizations have popped up around the country to provide Veterans with access to service dogs.   Veterans who receive these wonderful companions are most grateful.

Train a Dog – Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”)

It costs money to identify and train service dogs.  One organization that does a commendable job in doing so is Train a Dog – Save a Warrior or “TADSAW”.

Sadly, there are far too many Veterans with PTSD seeking “battle buddies” than TADSAW or other similar organizations can provide. While many Veterans find it difficult to make the time to train with their new “buddy,” there are many wonderful stories that suggest these dogs do have a positive impact on the lives of Veterans.

Some 3.9 million dogs enter animal shelters each year in the United States. If only 1% of these dogs could be properly trained and given to Veterans, we would make a serious dent on reducing the number of abandoned dogs and help 39,000 Veterans reclaim their lives.

This sounds like a win-win proposition.  Shouldn’t we give it a go or wait until further research is available at the VA?

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SFTT News: Week of May 27, 2016

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Military Suicides:  Most Appear Before Combat
“We found the highest rates of suicide attempts were among never-deployed soldiers and those in their first years of service,” Ursano’s team (Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda) wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry. Six months into a deployment is often when they get their first break. “That six-month time is usually the time most soldiers are taking a visit home,” Ursano said. “They are transitioning home and back again.”  It’s not precisely clear why suicide attempts — as opposed to completed suicides — go up at these times. Other research shows the risk for a completed suicide has little to do with whether someone has been in actual combat.  Read more . . .

VA Restores Benefits to Veterans Wrongly Declared Dead
A Florida congressman says the Department of Veterans Affairs cut off the benefits of more 4,200 people nationwide after they were wrongly declared dead.  Rep. David Jolly says these people were “very much alive” and their benefits were resumed after the VA looked into their cases, which happened between 2011 and 2015.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Compares Veteran Wait Times to Lines at Disneyworld 
Critics said Monday that Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald had trivialized the long-standing problem of lengthy wait times for appointments at California’s veterans medical centers by comparing them to waiting in long lines at Disneyland. His comments sparked an angry backlash from California lawmakers who felt that he had dismissed the angst and frustration of their constituents. McDonald made the comments Monday during a roundtable discussion with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Robert McDonald

Five Things to Know about President Obama’s Trip to Vietnam
President Barack Obama is visiting Vietnam, the third U.S. president to do so, for a series of meetings with officials aimed at deepening U.S. ties with the country through new economic and security initiatives. The two governments are expected to announce a host of new agreements. Here are five things to know about Mr. Obama’s trip to the Asian nation.  Read more . . .

Dining with President Obama in Hanoi
Deep in the heart of Hanoi, US President Barack Obama sat down for a $6 meal with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on Tuesday. The chef, known for his love of adventurous street food, described the occasion in a series of tweets and an Instagram post.  Read more . . .

Obama Bourdain Hanoi

Former Navy Seal Sheds Light on PTSD
First Sgt. Clint Castro spent 15 months on the front line as a medic in Iraq. When he came home to East Meadow, he faced another kind of battle against post-traumatic stress disorder. He says it led him to drink and lose his temper, and he isolated himself from his family. Castro turned to Northwell Health’s Rosen Family Wellness Center for help. He admits it wasn’t easy initially to ask for assistance.   Read more . . .

Treating Ukranian Veterans with PTSD with Service Dogs

The Coming Changes to the War in Afghanistan
U.S. officials on Monday justified the weekend drone strike that killed Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour by saying the Taliban leader planned to attack American or coalition forces in Afghanistan. But some observers believe the secretive operation that targeted the extremist at a southwest Pakistan hideout represents a shift in how the White House plans to execute the long-running war.  Read more . . .

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider becoming a member of Stand For The Troops.

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News Highlights – Week of March 6, 2016

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Found below are few military news items that surfaced during the last week that caught my attention. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that interest them.

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Wounded Warrior Project (“WWP”) attracts attention of Doonesbury
It was only a matter of time before the scathing humor of Gary Trudeau captured the tragedy unfolding with Wounded Warrior Project which appears to place the financial interests of its administrators in front of the needs of Veterans.  Such a shame!   Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Legislation would halt bad military discharges due to PTSD, TBI
Last week, a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan introduced legislation to ensure that military discharge review boards must consider troops’ mental health issues, and must accept a PTSD or TBI diagnosis from a professional as an acceptable rebuttal to a dismissal.   Read more . . .

House approves bill to consider PTSD as circumstance when sentencing veterans
The Oklahoma House of Representatives has passed a bill that will “expand current law to enable judges to consider a diagnosis of PTSD as a mitigating circumstance when sentencing veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD, prior to being charged with a crime”.  Would be nice to see this type of legislation in all states.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Service dogs aid veterans with PTSD
The service dog is trained to wake Sergeant Petz from his nightmares. Bosko is the first service dog provided by the Paws Forces, a new program of the Maumee-based the Arms Forces that helps veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries get services.  Read more . . .

Veterans Aware: PTSD primer
I work for the Department of Veteran Affairs, Readjustment Counseling Service at the St. George Vet Center. I work with veterans who have been deployed in areas of active American combat operations, veterans who have traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and folks who have experienced any variety of service-connected traumatic experience that has left them disabled emotionally or physically.  Read more  . . .

Buprenorphine May Beat Opioids for Triad of Pain, PTSD, SUDs
In a retrospective cohort study, investigators found that twice as many veterans treated with the partial nociceptin opioid receptor agonist experienced improvement in PTSD symptoms, beginning at 8 months and increasing over time. In contrast, those treated with opioids experienced a worsening of symptoms.   SFTT is not a big fan of prescription drugs – be careful!  Read more . . .

Join SFTT in helping get our Veterans the support they deserve.

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Equine Therapy and Service Dogs for Vets

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There are countless stories of Veteran men and women who suffer from PTSD who receive substantial benefits from the companionship and care of animals.  Many charitable programs have sprung up around the country to help Vets deal with the “silent wounds of war.”  SFTT is proud of its association with the EquiCenter in Rochester, New York which offers several types of programs for Veterans, including its acclaimed therapeutic equestrian training.

Similarly, Train a Dog – Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”) provides for the training of a Medical Alert Service Dog for any Active Duty or Veteran suffering from PTSD.  The goal of TADSAW is to restore and improve the warrior’s quality of life with a canine “Battle Buddy”, at no charge to the warrior.

As reported earlier by SFTT, the VA does not provide and financial assistance to Veterans with PTSD for equine or dog therapy.    As such, it is vital that we continue to support these grass-roots programs which are helping many Veterans reclaim their lives.  Found below are samples of two such programs which are doing just that.

Equine therapy helping veterans deal with anxiety and PTSD

Equine service for Heroes is just one example  of a successful program designed to help our Veterans suffering from PTSD who believe that they face rejection from society and, in some cases, their military friends.

The Rocking Horse Ranch in Pitt county has a new therapy program helping veterans connect with their emotions. The program is called The Equine Service for Heroes and pairs military vets with horses at the ranch.

Ashley Bonner spent 10 years in the Air Force as a medic. She joined after 9-11 and was deployed to Turkey and became a Staff Sergeant. In 2012, she left the service and came back to Greenville. “A lot of times when you get out of service, for medical reasons or because your time is up, coming home from a deployment there is a lot of anxiety, depression and self-doubt. “ says Bonner.

Staff Sergeant, Adam Harrod, spent 12 years in the Army Reserves in Kentucky with two tours of duty in Iraq. “I left because of back problems, PTSD and I decided to get a job in education, can’t do that in the military” says Harrod. To help treat his PTSD, He says he heard about the new 12 week equine therapy program from the V.A. and joined.

Malaika Albrecht, the Executive Director of the Rocking Horse Ranch, says the horses can sense anxiety in people. “There’s a lot of research out there, yes anxiety reduction, how is it happening,” Albrecht says, “I don’t personally know if I care how it happens, I only care that it does.” Both Bonner and Harrod are volunteers at the ranch as well as participants and attributes working with the horses with finding purpose and a plan for their lives.

This program has been funded by the Grainger Foundation to allow veterans to participate for free. The Rocking Horse Ranch depends on donations to keep programs, like this and others, available to participants for free of for low costs. The Equine Services for Heroes is free for this year. Read more at : Equine therapy helping veterans deal with anxiety and PTSD

This equine therapy program for Vets is not inexpensive to administer and requires generous contributions from charitable foundations and individuals to help provide the brave young men and women the support they need to help reclaim their lives.

Service dog helps veteran service officer cope with PTSD

More common than equine therapy are the vast number of programs featuring service and/or companion dogs for Veterans.  Clearly, there are many theories to explain the benefits of using a dog to help a Veteran, but quite simply a dog is a trusted companion that is there for you 24/7.  The bonds formed in this process are mutually beneficial.   Found below is one such story.

When Tony Tengwall returned from deployment in Baghdad with the Minnesota Army National Guard in 2005, he struggled to readjust to civilian life. Tengwall got a job and went back to school, but it was “tougher than it should have been,” he said. He was losing touch with family and friends. He didn’t socialize.

It wasn’t until he started working with other veterans that he noticed similar traits: anxiety, frustration. “It helped me understand that there are things not working here,” he said. It was post-traumatic stress disorder.

A colleague, who also works with veterans, saw how Tengwall would interact with one of her foster dogs, Fitz. The 4-year-old English cocker spaniel would calm Tengwall and “brought him to the present,” said Lauri Brooke, a county veterans service officer in Becker County.

Fitz is a psychiatric service dog who has helped Tengwall, 35, a veterans service officer in Anoka County, with his PTSD. The pup, who also goes to work with Tengwall, provides the same comfort to other veterans when they visit the office. “I haven’t had an angry vet since I got Fitz,” he said. “They come in, sometimes angry, sit down and start petting him. And then their mood completely changes.”

“People remember me as the guy with the dog,” Tengwall said. “It started with the little things,” he said. Fitz got him out of the house for exercise and conversations with neighbors. Fitz can predict Tengwall’s mood shifts. If Tengwall starts to feel road rage, for example, Fitz puts his head on Tengwall’s shoulders, as if to say “Hey buddy, calm down,” Tengwall said.

Tengwall served 11 years with the Minnesota Army National Guard and was in Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for about a year. The hardest time for him, he said, was when his unit deployed and he was back home, no longer in the service.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s first piece of legislation in Congress was the Service Dogs for Veterans Act. This bill paired about 200 veterans with service dogs that help them mentally or physically. Most veterans cannot afford service dogs. The cost to train each one and place it with the proper veteran is about $25,000.

But the benefits, Brooke said, are great. She has seen firsthand what they can do for people like Tengwall. “The Tony Tengwall I first met and the Tony Tengwall now are completely different people,” Brooke said. “The Tony after Fitz is a much calmer, happier person.” Read more: Service dog helps Anoka County veteran service officer cope with PTSD

Indeed, the cost of providing support to Veterans like Tony Tengwall are often beyond the financial resources of most Veterans.  Can’t you help.  If so, please consider supporting the SFTT Rescue Coalition to support grass-roots therapy programs around the country.

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