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How Pets Help Veterans Cope With PTSD
Less than 10 percent of the U.S. population are veterans, but those brave individuals make up a large portion of Americans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While PTSD treatment types vary, many medical professionals recognize the benefits of pets to help calm the symptoms of PTSD.
Studies show that pets and service dogs may improve the well-being of veterans and others with PTSD for numerous reasons. According to Psychology Today, “veterans with PTSD do better on both physiological and psychological measures if they have a service dog.”
We’ve known for years that pets can help reduce stress and anxiety, and those are two of the primary symptoms that accompany PTSD. You may have even seen service dogs march side by side with their humanin a Veterans Day or Memorial Day parade. Here’s a run-down of how animals can help veterans to better cope with their PTSD.
PTSD: By the Numbers
PTSD affects approximately 24 million Americans at any given time. And research indicates that veterans are more susceptible to the condition than civilians.
When military veterans come back from war, between 5 and 20 percent are estimated to suffer from PTSD. The condition can manifest itself in numerous ways and has a variety of symptoms. Some returning veterans experience flashbacks from their time in active combat. Others may experience general feelings of anxiety in particular situations, such as darkened movie theaters or in large crowds.
No matter the symptoms, preliminary evidence shows that service dogs may improve overall well-being for veterans with PTSD. Dogs can help veterans improve social skills and draw out those with an isolated personality. Further, training a dog and teaching it commands helps develop the ability to communicate effectively.
Combat veterans may also have difficulty sleeping, and service dogs often provide peace of mind that there’s someone watching over the house so that veterans with PTSD can get some shut eye. PTSD can also elicit a flight-or-flight response in a variety of daily situations. Having a service dog at one’s side during these panicky moments can help calm a veteran down, keeping them grounded.
Veterans in the Workforce
Veterans can struggle to re-acclimate themselves to civilian life, especially within the workforce. Pets can help veterans find the confidence they need to become successful in any industry. The unique skills that veterans picked up during their time of service makes them well-suited for the business industry. Many veterans today use their leadership and communication skills to find work and succeed as entrepreneurs, according to the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Jobs for veterans run the gamut from construction to entrepreneurship, but every workplace that employs veterans must be ready to accept a service dog on the job site. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability, and service animals are essentially an extension of a veteran worker. ?
Types of Support Animals
There are various levels of dogs that help those suffering from PTSD. Service dogs are those specially trained for assistance. They can often be identified by special vests, and these animals are allowed into every place of business without discrimination when they accompany a disabled individual who requires them for support.
Some service dogs are trained to help with a particular disability. Veterans who have lost a limb and wear a prosthetic may be paired with an animal that has a similar affliction. 3D Systems in Rock Hill, South Carolina, provides 3D printed limbs for disabled dogs as well as their human counterparts.
Another level of service animal is an emotional support animal. These differ from registered service dogs in that they aren’t trained to perform a particular service. They serve, as their name indicates, as a vessel for emotional support. For example, if a veteran with PTSD is feeling anxious in a particular situation, he or she will pet or play with their emotional support animal until the negative feelings pass. While given certain protections when it comes to housing, emotional support animals are not given the same public access that service dogs have.
Despite the numerous studies that tout the benefits of service dogs for those with PTSD, many veterans are finding it difficult to pay for their service animal. According to NPR, the Department of Veterans Affairs won’t help pay for service dogs solely for PTSD. A veteran must also be physically disabled in order for the VA to pay for their service dog. This means that many veterans may not be getting all the help they need to treat their combat-related PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people every year, and combat veterans are especially susceptible to the condition. Preliminary research has shown that service animals may help calm the symptoms of PTSD, including anxiety and fear of the unknown. The reduction of PTSD means that veterans are better able to enter the workforce, often with their service dog by their side. Despite promising studies, however, the VA wants to see more concrete evidence before it pays for service dogs that are trained specifically to help those with PTSD.
Noah Yarnol Rue is always looking where his next trip will take him . When he’s not traveling the world, he’s writing articles on the new things he learns. Noah also enjoys a good meme from time to time. You can find Noah on LinkedIn.