Veterans deserve all the help the can get. After a lifetime of being served by these heroes, we now must give back by helping them in return. Many veterans are already aged, and unfortunately, some have acquired disabilities that make it harder for them to do what they want in their lives. To remedy this, people have developed ingenious methods to assist disabled veterans with some of their daily activities. One of these solutions involves man’s best friend: the dog.
New research from Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in conjunction with Florida-based non-profit K9s for Warriors finds military veterans with PTSD do better on both physiological and psychological measures if they have a service dog compared to if they are waiting to receive one. — Zazie Todd Ph.D.
Dogs can be very loyal companions, having lived side by side with humanity for millennia. Service dogs are also intelligent enough to be trained to perform simple tasks. Perhaps most of all, they can form a strong emotional bond with their owners. These characteristics make service dogs suitable for assisting disabled veterans and giving them the emotional support they need.
Common Disabilities In Veterans
By the very nature of their past work, military personnel are exposed frequently to conflict and danger. While military training is designed to toughen them mentally, the mental load imposed by the rigors of combat and the uncertainty of survival can reach overwhelming levels.
While many people develop ways to deal with all this stress properly, some people are unable to cope and develop a post-traumatic stress disorder. This mental condition makes it difficult to cope with all the traumatic experiences, and debilitating feelings of stress may persist for years.
Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder may find it difficult to enjoy life to the fullest, as specific activities and scenarios may act as triggers that may prompt them to relieve their darkest moments.
Another common disability found in veterans involves direct physical damage. Aside from limb amputation resulting from explosions or infected wounds, veterans may also suffer from varying degrees of traumatic brain injury. This injury is the result of brain tissue damage resulting from trauma such as blows to the head.
Explosions may also produce powerful shockwaves that can cause this type of damage. These physical disabilities may impair normal functioning, making it difficult for affected veterans to engage in the kinds of activities that other people may find easy to do.
The Veterans Association covers the cost of service dogs for veterans who have physical disabilities such as blindness and deafness. — Robert T Muller Ph.D.
How A Service Dog Can Help
While human caregivers are sometimes required to assist disabled veterans, service dogs can give supplementary help. Service dogs are trained to be friendly and patient, making them easy to interact with. They can also be taught to do specific tasks, such as waking people from a nightmare or helping stop panic attacks.
By doing these tasks, service dogs reduce the workload of other caregivers, including many relatives and friends who might also be trying to help the patient. They can focus on more complex tasks, such as administering medication or assisting the patient with maintenance tasks, as the service dogs take over their relatively simpler tasks.
Additionally, service dogs are very powerful sources of companionship and emotional support. Even though dogs cannot speak, they can still show love and affection towards their masters. Service dogs can bring about improvements in psychological well-being, and they can also help reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, interacting with service dogs can raise levels of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter associated with affection and bonding. All in all, service dogs provide both physical assistance and psychological relief.
The veterans in the dog group also missed work less and show fewer impairments on their jobs. Impressively, many of these differences had, in stat-speak, “large effect sizes.” — Hal Herzog Ph.D.
Dealing With Service Dogs
Service dogs can provide several health benefits to veterans, as evidenced by studies. However, they can only work at their best if we give them the freedom to do so. Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act allows service dogs to accompany their masters in public, even in locations where dogs are generally not allowed to enter.
Also, both the dog and the master will require training, as well as extensive interaction, to solidify their bond to each other. This effort is worthwhile though, as this article shows that service dogs can be a wonderful blessing for veterans.