PTSD Therapy Incorporates Service Dogs

A novel therapy is helping some returned service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2-year-old pit bull mix named Zoey is helping one Army veteran overcome his anxiety disorder.

PTSD is common among those who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan, but can also occur after any traumatic event that involves injury or death. Some symptoms include reliving the event, avoiding situations that may be similar to the traumatic event, feeling numb or on the opposite end of the spectrum feeling jittery and always on high alert.

Many treatments exist for PTSD including medication and therapy that simulates a war-zone environment to pinpoint what triggers symptoms.

Between 2002 and March 2012, more than 245,000 soldiers who sought care at the VA received at least a preliminary diagnosis of PTSD, according to Laurie Tranter, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Service Dogs Help Veterans Cope With Symptoms

For the Army veteran who served three tours of duty in Iraq as a mechanic and retired in 2011, therapy and medications were not working to control his PTSD symptoms. What has made a difference is his service dog. Zoey now accompanies him while he trains as a motorcycle mechanic and is able to help diffuse his bouts of anxiety and irritability.

Service dogs are trained to detect changes in demeanor and shift attention away from whatever might be causing the anxiety. One group working to make more service dogs available for soldiers, is a New Mexico organization called Mutts Assisting Soldier Heros, which trains shelter dogs to become service dogs. Many groups raise money to cover training costs and soldiers may also need to pay a percentage of the cost.

New therapies are becoming available to treat PTSD; however, symptoms can be debilitating. Veterans’ disability compensation may be available to compensate for injuries suffered during service.

Source: Military.com, “Dogs Help Vets Deal with PTSD,” Walter Pacheco, July 11, 2012.