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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Service Animals Working With Veterans Who Suffer From PTSD

English: Mike Sergeant of America's VetDogs de...
Mike Sergeant of America's VetDogs demonstrates handling techniques of Maverick, a therapy dog. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Have you ever met a service animal?  According to the American Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition."

Many of us are accustom to seeing guide dogs that work with the blind or hearing impaired; however, we might not be aware of the ongoing research being done to train service animals to work with people who have psychiatric disorders and other mental disabilities. It does seem like a natural transition, given how most humans enjoy the company of their pets and even hospital facilities often allow their longer term patients to be visited by therapy dogs. A pet can have a calming effect, just by petting them. It should be noted that therapy dogs are not considered service animals according to the ADA.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a problem for many veterans.  The numbers of men and women suffering from PTSD as a result of their experiences during military service are growing.  According to NBC News:  "An estimated 13 to 20 percent of the more than 2.6 million service members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 have or may develop PTSD."  The number is staggering and as we have mentioned before most experts will agree that PTSD can have many side-effects, not the least of which is crippling mental health symptoms including substance abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse and suicidal tendencies.

The Veterans' Administration (VA) is struggling to figure out how to provide care and therapy for those veterans suffering from PTSD.  First, the diagnosis needs to be completed and then the health care providers need to be able to offer care options which might include group therapy, one on one therapy, working with other veterans, and medication management.

The VA is now conducting a study to determine the benefits of providing specially trained service dogs to veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD. Training service dogs is a long, arduous and expensive process. It can take anywhere from six to 24 months to train one dog. Also deciding what training a service dog needs to assist a PTSD patient is being fine tuned.  Some feel the service dog should learn how to ground a client during an anxiety episode, remind a client to take medication and awaken a client from a nightmare.

It will be interesting to follow this study. So far study participants are excited to be involved. As one participant told NBC news:
"It blew me away. I can talk with just about any social worker, counselor, my closest friend, a psychologist, and as much as they can get it ... the dog looks in my eyes and seems to understand what my real basic need is. It’s that self-worth that makes me feel a private pride, something that I thought I’d lost a long time ago."

Stay tuned and enjoy the related articles...

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