It makes sense that dogs for veterans would help with their physical, emotional and mental ailments. Dogs lift your mood, relieve stress and provide companionship. They’re especially beneficial for veterans who suffer from PTSD, though there is no scientific research that proves a correlation between dogs and PTSD recovery. Researchers are compiling evidence that bonding with dogs might have biological effects, like an elevated level of the oxytocin. This hormone improves trust, helps people overcome paranoia and makes it easier to interpret facial expressions. Dogs are loyal companions, take orders when well-trained and are a good excuse to leave the house for walks. Dogs are not a substitute for PTSD treatment, but they can be utilized alongside other medical and therapeutic treatments. One thing you have to consider is whether dogs for veterans might hinder them from reaching full recovery. If, for example, a service dog prevents people from crowding around their veteran, the veteran may never learn how to deal with the issue on their own. It’s important to strike a balance so that dog dependency doesn’t hinder growth. Even though dogs for veterans is a viable coping option, there’s not enough research yet to determine a direct correlation between dogs and improvement.
Service dogs are dogs that are trained to complete certain tasks that their owner cannot do on their own due to disability. This might include picking up objects, guiding the blind, or assisting fallen owners. Service dogs go through training to achieve their title, and they’re common candidates as dogs for veterans. This training includes doing things that go against natural dog behavior, learning how to assist their owner, and learning how to work with the new handler in ways that manage their disability. Service dogs are allowed in most public places, so you don’t have to worry about leaving your dog outside a store or restaurant. If your dog refuses to behave in an establishment, however, you can be asked to leave. You can get a service dog by passing a review and evaluation from a prescribing clinician. You have to be able to prove that you can care for the dog (currently and in the future), show that there are goals to be accomplished through the use of the dog and show that you are taking other measures (through assistive technology or therapy) to accomplish goals.
Guide dogs are a type or service dog that have the ability to lead the blind or visually impaired, guiding their owner to walk in a straight line and helping them avoid obstacles in their path. If you are a blind veteran, you qualify to receive a guide dog. Candidates are accessed and trained for orientation and mobility. If a guide dog is determined to be the best option or is preferred by the veteran, information on how to contact guide dog schools is provided on the VA website. The VA recommends dogs for veterans that are visually impaired.
Emotional Support Dogs
Emotional support dogs for veterans are ideal for those suffering from a mental health condition. These dogs also go by the title ‘comfort dogs’ or ‘support dogs’. They don’t require any special training, which means you can adopt any dog and experience the comforting effects. Unlike service dogs, these emotional support dogs do not have the same permission to be in public places. If you have documented approval from a doctor, you can sometimes be granted permission to have your dog in an apartment or on an airplane. The VA covers the cost of veterinary care and equipment through VA Prosthetics and Sensory Aids, but boarding, grooming, food and other routine expenses must be paid for by the veteran. The dog and training costs are covered by the VA if the veteran is approved for a service dog.
You need to keep in mind that adopting a dog means caring for that dog as well. If you don’t feel physically or mentally capable of taking care of the dog yourself, you should have a friend or family member that can carry out the duties for you. The VA does not provide service dogs for mental health conditions currently, but there are several organizations that specialize in training dogs to deal with PTSD owners. Many of these organizations operate off donations, so there is no cost to the veteran.
America’s Vet Dogs
America’s Vet Dogs is a dogs for veterans program that “helps those who have served our country honorably live with dignity and independence”. They train and place guide dogs for those who are blind or those with low vision, those with PTSD, those with hearing disabilities and those with other physical disabilities. Their facility dogs are used in the rehab process in military and VA hospitals as well. Keep in mind that these dogs aren’t cheap to train. In fact, it costs over $50,000 to breed, raise, train and place an assistance dog. Despite the enormous expense that goes into these dogs, they are provided at no charge to the individual thanks to donations from generous corporations, foundations, businesses and individuals. They were certified by the International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International in 2013. This accreditation proves that they treat their dogs well, maintain education benchmarks for trainers and provide procedures for consumers during the application and acceptance process (such as a way for them to make their complaints known). They’ve also been awarded the Secretary of the Army Public Service Award, which is the second-highest level award given to civilians. They were given this award for exceptional service that makes a substantial contribution to the accomplishment of the Army’s missions.
Pets for Vets
Pets for Vets is another dogs for veterans program that stands by the belief that “our country owes military veterans a debt of gratitude”. Their dogs are trained to not only provide emotional support to PTSD veterans, but also to be desensitized to wheelchairs/crutches and recognize anxiety disorder behaviors. Because they train up shelter dogs, it’s a win-win for both parties. The dogs get a second chance at life in a world where 1.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year. As part of the program, the Pets for Vets team interviews the veteran to find out what they’re looking for in a companion animal. Once a match has been determined, the chosen dog will spend time in the home of a trainer. The trainer then teaches the dog basic obedience and valuable behaviors needed to live with their owner. Eligible recipients are veterans within chapter areas who are able to care for the animal and could benefit from a companion dog. Eligibility areas in Kansas City include Clay, Cass, Jackson, and Lafayette county. Check out these stories for more information on how dogs for veterans can have life-changing results.
This Able Veteran
This Able Veteran is service dog organization geared toward U.S. military veterans suffering from PTSD. They work to combat a startling figure: that every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. Their dogs for veterans are trained to intervene and help their owner refocus via soothing behavior. The dog’s training program works in conjunction with a 3-week Trauma Resiliency Program. What sets This Able Veteran apart from other programs is that they train veteran students to rely on themselves. Through the TRP, the organization helps veteran students understand how PTSD works and teach them coping mechanisms. It covers a range of topics from breath control to insomnia to life balance. This allows veterans to feel secure in their ability to handle issues on their own instead of relying solely on their dog. It also gives veterans a chance to bond with their service dog before taking them home. This Able Veteran looks at each veteran as an individual with different needs when matching dogs for veterans. They take into account what triggers the anxiety, how the veteran acts when they’re depressed, whether they have nightmares, and what happens when they begin to feel anxious. The Clinical Outcomes Group and Southern Illinois University’s psychology department both conducted studies on the effectiveness of the program and found that there was significant improvement in symptoms of depression, anxiety and anger. Check out this video to see these service dogs in action:
For older veterans that aren’t able to care for a dog, there are other options. For example, veterans homes provide for every need a veteran may have in a safe environment. We are dedicated to helping the residents of the Cameron Missouri Veterans Home live a fulfilling life. This modern facility offers clean and comfortable housing, nutritious meals and full-time medical care and supervision to the brave men and women who served our country. In addition to living assistance, they provide physical therapy, rehabilitation therapy, recreation, pastoral care and social services. Our organization helps make their stay enjoyable; We’ve thrown special events for the residents, holiday celebrations and activities that enhance their community involvement. With your donations, we’re able to provide special modes of transportation (such as wheelchair accessible vans and larger passenger buses) to make outings available to all residents. These outings include everything from shopping trips to sporting events. We funnel 100% all the money we make from fundraisers and donations to give these veterans a higher quality of life. Help us achieve our mission to “promote, advance and provide for the social, moral, physical and educational welfare of the veterans of the Missouri Cameron Veterans Home” by donating today.