Tuesday, October 9, 2012

SERVICE DOGS FOR VETS WITH PTSD

Dear Readers:

I work at a university in the department of Social Work, primarily with those students who are seeking a Master's degree in this subject.  One of the students, a vet that served in the gulf as a medic, I have gotten to know farily well.  He has PTSD.  Currently, he has a service dog, which he says has made it possible for him to get out in public, because he must take care of and look after his dog.  The bond between these two is amazing.  The dog senses when his 'vet' needs that extra attention.  One of the many things he does is to alert him when someone is approaching from behind, so he isn't taken by surprise.  As far as the dog's interaction between the other students, faculty, and staff there has been absolutely no problems. 

To quote an article by Keri Huus of NBC News:

     "VA has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness," the department said. "Until such a determination can be made, VA cannot justify providing benefits for mental health service dogs."
     To be defined as a "service dog" the animal has to be trained to do specific tasks for a person - such as picking things up, guiding them or providing balance. [emphasis mine]
      Trainers say that for veterans suffering mental disabilities such as PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), dogs can be trained to help avert panic attacks and wake them up as they enter a nightmare.  The animals can be taught to remind veterans to take medications and alert them if they have left a burner lit on the stove.

But apparently the VA has determined that these dogs are not necessary, and the funding has been taken away.

To quote one vet's comment:
Luis Zaragoza, 28, who suffers PTSD from his service in the Iraq war, says he's experienced more progress in a month with his service dog, Cheyenne, than in all the years visiting the VA since his discharge in 2004.

"For eight years I was just in limbo, but now I’m seeing glimpses of the old me — the me I was before I joined the military," he said of the service-dog program.

The program, designed by Illinois-based nonprofit This Able Veteran, paired Zaragoza with the dog and a therapist. The dog is there to help the veteran re-enter mainstream life at intervals recommended and monitored by the therapist.

In Zaragoza's case, the dog is trained to detect a tic — Zaragoza’s leg begins to shake — at the onset of a panic attack, and divert the veteran’s attention by bumping his leg. Cheyenne will do this a second time — more insistently — if Zaragoza fails to respond the first time. This happens up to five times a day, said Zaragoza, who lost nine soldiers in his company during two bruising stints in Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq.

The veteran says he is regaining his ability to get out of the house and do things — like go to the shopping mall — that he has avoided because of the anxiety and hyper vigilance that is common to combat-related PTSD. Zaragoza says he sleeps more, functions better in the day, and interacts with more with other people rather than choosing to isolate himself. He’s lost 15 pounds because he is more active.

That was progress he had not seen despite years of visiting VA psychiatrists and doctors who prescribed medications for his PTSD symptoms.

"At the VA, what they tend to do is pump you with medicine," he said. "That’s not a solution to any issue like PTSD or anxiety. They just kind of numb you. I knew that wasn’t the right choice for me. I was looking for an alternative."

But Zaragoza’s opportunity remains relatively rare and unaffordable for many veterans.
  
It costs about $20,000 to train a dog, but that amount pales in comparison to the costs of drugs and constant appointments with a counselor.  

If you are upset about this valuable service for out Vets being discontinued, don't contact the VA, contact your Senators and Congressmen and demand that they find the funding for this valuable service for our Vets! 

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