As I wrote in my last post, this month we are discussing preventing the suicide rate in our world. To me, there is no greater tragedy that the suicides that are occurring on a daily basis for our veterans, which devastates their families and fellow veterans. But there is hope.
How dogs can help veterans cope with stress
We use facility dogs in our schools at Lakeside and have seen such a huge positive impact on our students. The same consequence is true for many veterans who have used dogs to help them with their PTSD. I honestly believe in some cases dogs can provide the stability that our veterans need and thus could prevent their suicidal thoughts and actions.
Fortunately, research is beginning regarding veterans receiving dogs to help them cope with the stressors of PTSD. Here is an article by Teresa Weakly in Buffalo, New York.
The Veterans Administration in Buffalo is learning about two studies focusing on how service dogs might benefit veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. V.A. branches around the country typically offer service dogs to veterans with physical disabilities, but not mental disabilities.
The reason often cited is a “lack of scientific evidence to prove that service dogs are an effective treatment for PTSD”, said Rory Diamond, the executive director for the organization K9s for Warriors.
K9s for Warriors is a non-profit organization based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, and is actively participating in PTSD service dogs investigative studies. The organization pairs veterans who qualify, with a service dog, using a three week program to train veterans with their new partners. The two studies are in collaboration with the Human Animal Bond Institute Foundation, and the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, and involve 100 veterans who are being paired with service dogs by K9s for Warriors.
Veterans like retired Marine Captain Jason Haag, who already have dogs, say this program has saved their lives.
“I was exceptionally lost. I couldn’t function in society at all. I couldn’t come out of my basement. I wasn’t doing anything, and I didn’t care if I lived or died”, explained Haag about his mindset before getting into the program.
He has had his dog, Axel, for three years, and has seen a dramatic improvement. Haag calls Axel a hero who has done so much for his family and everyone he has touched.
There are several criteria that veterans must meet to qualify for the K9s for Warriors program. That includes (i) military service after September 11, 2001, (ii)verifiable diagnosis of PTSD, TBI, and/or MST, (iii) honorable discharge or current honorable service, (iv) stable living environment, (v) free of substance abuse, and (vi) not have a conviction of any crime against animals, among other requirements.
Each academy is three weeks in length where the warrior learns the skills needed to participate in the final training of their own canines. The organization provides a service canine, training, certification, equipment, seminars, vet care, meals, and housing, free of charge. Each Warrior is responsible for their own transportation to and from the facility which is located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Should a veteran need assistance with travel, K9s for Warriors has partnered with several organization that may assist.
I am such a firm believer in dog therapy for veterans. Those veterans I know who have had trained dogs have really seen huge changes in their brain regulation and quality of life.
I think the calming nature and loyalty of dogs is a great stabilizer in their lives and promotes a great sense of well-being.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network