How to Get a Service Dog for PTSD

Veteran with his PTSD Service Dog

Many people can never fully understand the intensity of stressors that service members experience during their tours of duty. For decades, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been misunderstood, and historically only the most extremely “shell shocked” individuals could get treatment.  To this day, the emotional magnitude of the military experience is still not fully appreciated, and many civilians underestimate the toll that a military tour can take on your body and mind.

If you have been struggling with PTSD, you are not alone. Millions of veterans across the nation struggle with PTSD after serving their country. Many never seek treatment because they have been conditioned to deny their limitations, but there are practical ways to combat the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder while maintaining an active lifestyle.

One of the most common methods used to help veterans with PTSD, especially those who also have significant hearing or vision loss, is a service dog. A service dog can help perform tasks that an individual cannot otherwise perform because of a disability, as well as provide significant emotional support to its owner.  Continue reading to learn more about your options.

What Is PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition that anyone can develop after witnessing, experiencing, or hearing about a traumatic event. This psychological disorder is characterized by symptoms including but not limited to:

  • Depression and/or anxiety disorders
  • Panic attacks/anxiety attacks
  • Night terrors
  • Flashbacks
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable things and reduced quality of life
  • Trouble doing specific tasks or going to certain public places
  • Dissociation
  • A heightened sense of arousal or hypervigilance
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Being easily irritable or experiencing mood swings

Unfortunately, many of America’s Veterans experience PTSD both during and after they retire from active service. The stresses of war and the military environment, in general, can prove to be triggers for many American Veterans, causing them to experience PTSD symptoms for years after leaving the service.

PTSD can and often is treated with various interventions, like therapy, medications, and more. But these interventions do not work for all Veterans. Some Veterans with PTSD require more novel treatment solutions, like working with service dogs.

Service Dogs Help Veterans Cope With PTSD Symptoms

Although it may seem strange at first, service dogs are proven to help many Veterans cope with symptoms related to PTSD and other mental or physical conditions.

For example, one Army Veteran served three tours of duty in Iraq as a mechanic. He retired in 2011, only to find that he had developed PTSD and intense symptoms related to this condition. Unfortunately, traditional therapy and medications did not work well to control his PTSD symptoms or enable him to live life to the fullest.

He instead pursued an alternative form of treatment: getting a service dog. His service dog immediately made a major difference and accompanies him as he trains to be a motorcycle mechanic.

How Do Service Dogs Help?

Just how do service dogs help Veterans like this one cope with PTSD symptoms? In a nutshell, service dogs help to diffuse bouts of irritability, anxiety, and other mood swings. Calming, helpful canine companions can remind PTSD victims of where they are and what they are doing, and they can help them relax if they encounter a stressor in their day-to-day lives.

All service dogs are very carefully bred and trained. Service dogs know how to detect changes in demeanor in their people, as well as how to shift attention away from potential stressors or objects/people that may be causing anxiety.

Service dogs are so effective that various non-profit organizations are looking to make them more available for soldiers with PTSD or other mental illnesses. For instance, a New Mexico organization called Mutts Assisting Soldier Heroes trains shelter dogs to become service dogs. Other groups raise money to cover the training costs and care costs for soldiers, though Veterans benefiting from this type of therapy may also need to pay a certain percentage of costs.

New therapies are becoming available to treat PTSD all the time. But even with these treatments, symptoms can be debilitating or disabling. If you receive disability compensation from the VA, you could use that compensation to pay for a service dog or related PTSD treatments.

Determine Whether a Service Dog Would Benefit You

Service dogs are not the best option for every veteran, and their suitability largely depends on your personal needs and temperament. For example, if you travel a lot by plane, owning a service dog may be less convenient for you than it would be for someone who stays close to home. Your service dog would still be allowed on an airplane, but managing the logistics and additional pressure may present a stressor for some people. On the other hand, the service dog can be helpful for tasks like navigating the airport or balancing while boarding the plane.

A service dog may be especially helpful if you suffer from the following:

A service dog is an excellent option for someone who has trouble navigating typical situations in their daily routine. If you are looking for a dog for therapeutic reasons or to help you cope with emotional trauma, a support dog may be a better option for you.

Differences Between a Service Dog and Emotional Support Animal

A service dog is specially trained to provide certain practical functions for people who need them. They are best for someone with a physical disability that prevents them from completing daily tasks. On the other hand, an emotional support dog is helpful for people suffering with mental health conditions, including PTSD and clinical depression.

Emotional support animals are meant to serve as a therapeutic tool for their owners and do not have the same rights as service animals. While many businesses will allow both as exceptions to a no-pets policy, there is a legal distinction and there may be times when emotional support animals are denied entry or not given the same consideration.  For example, a transportation service may charge a fee for an emotional support animal that they do not charge for a certified service animal.

Even so, an emotional support animal can provide tremendous benefits for their owners. Some of the known benefits of an emotional support animal include:

These benefits are not trivial and can be essential to helping veterans manage their PTSD symptoms. If you believe a service animal would be beneficial for you, there are steps you can take immediately to obtain a service dog.

Utilizing a Service Dog for PTSD Symptoms

Veterans with PTSD and no physical impairments may still be eligible for a service dog beyond an emotional support animal.

Remember, the difference is that a service dog has been specially trained to perform actions to provide aid.  Examples of actions that a service dog might perform for someone with strictly mental ailments are:

Because service animals receive specific training, your best bet is to go through an organization that focuses on providing service animals to people, especially veterans. You will also need VA to deem you eligible for a service animal if you receive one. More information about both of these steps is detailed below.

Find an Organization That Specializes in Service Dogs

If you are looking to adopt a pet primarily for emotional support, you have some options, including a typical pet shop or an animal shelter. However, if you want a service dog in your life, it is best to obtain one from an organization that focuses on training them. Here are some options that provide service dogs to veterans:

Also, you can search Assistance Dogs International by location to find an organization operating close to where you live. Many programs dedicated to providing service dogs train rescue animals to be fantastic companions. By adopting one, you are helping yourself and giving a home to a dog that would not have one otherwise.

Expenses Covered by VA

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps servicemembers when they come home. Although the VA does not provide service dogs to veterans, they will cover some of the expenses related to them.

To determine whether you are eligible for a service dog, visit the VA’s online benefit page. If you are eligible for benefits, the VA will help with the following expenses:

  •    Veterinary care
  •    Necessary equipment, including harnesses and backpacks
  •    Medical procedures
  •    Sedated dental procedures
  •    Prescribed medications
  •    Vaccinations

Keep in mind that VA does not cover the typical expenses related to owning an animal. The VA does not cover items such as food, water, over-the-counter medications, grooming, and other routine costs.

Getting a Service Dog for PTSD

The attorneys at Berry Law Firm have seen the effects of PTSD firsthand, and we know how difficult it can be to cope with the symptoms. If you applied for a service dog but were denied eligibility because of an inadequate disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, we can help you appeal for a higher disability rating.

Our mission is to make sure veterans receive the support and funding they need to live healthy and productive lives after serving our country. Contact our firm by phone or requesting an appointment online for more information.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law Firm are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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