Man’s Best Friend Versus PTSD

Dogs Help Veterans with PTSD

Man’s Best Friend Versus PTSD

There are over 21 million veterans in the United States, and many have faced challenges integrating back into civilian life. There are estimates that a whopping 20 percent of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which is one of the most common trauma-induced mental illnesses afflicting veterans today.

There are also studies suggesting that as many as 20 veterans commit suicide every day. The VA maintains the largest national database tracking veteran suicide in the nation, and it reported that there was an average of 17 veteran suicides every day in 2017. That trend has been ticking up since then.

On June 17th, President Trump unveiled the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS), which is a task force that is leading the VA to provide greater care and services to veterans. So far, the VA has received $9.6 billion in funding for mental health services in 2020. Established by Executive Order 13861 on March 5th, 2019, one of the deliverables promised by PREVENTS is a legislative proposal consisting of recommendations for grants to increase capacity for communities to collaborate and integrate Veteran service delivery.

Meaning, the federal government can only do so much, and communities can offer the greatest support to those veterans who suffer from PTSD.

Let’s Take the Dogs Out

In a recent study by Dr. Cheryl Krause-Parello, researchers found that walking with a dog from local shelters had a greater effect on psychological and physiological stress indicators in veterans when compared to walking with another human.

“Our study provides evidence that walking with a shelter dog may benefit veterans with higher symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Severity of symptoms and perceived stress tended to decrease more after walks with a dog than walks with a human,” said Dr. Krause-Parello.

“Our findings emphasize the need for more research,” she continues, “to determine if this form of human-animal interaction is beneficial to veterans with PTSD and to help us identify the optimal level of interaction that will be most impactful for them.”

Their study focused on using dogs from local shelters who need to be walked to decrease their own stress of being in a kennel for long periods of time. By using these shelter dogs, researchers were able to randomize the interactions between veterans suffering from PTSD and the 72 different dogs that participated in the study. Their findings indicate that, regardless of the dog’s size, the walks were beneficial to all participating veterans with varying degrees of PTSD.

Opportunities for Veterans

Okay, so we have science on our side supporting the belief that dogs are great for humans, especially veterans who are having difficulty adjusting to civilian life. In May 2020, we published a comprehensive list of organizations that provide service dogs to disabled veterans. Many of them focus specifically on connecting veterans with PTSD to a four-legged friend.

Some of my favorites are:

If you’re just looking to walk a dog a few times a week, check with your local shelter. If you need help finding your local shelter, I recommend Petfinder, which is a website that will connect you with shelters near you. I ran the search for my ZIP code and found that my local shelter offers veteran support services. Here in northern Virginia, they have a Warrior Bundles Military Family Adoption Program that provides companion animals for military families and a reduced adoption fee. Check out your local shelter to discover what veteran programs they have.

Mutual Benefits

The symptoms and PTSD can last a lifetime. Most of us who have served did so because we love our country, even though we did not always comprehend what that service would do to us physically and mentally. By the same token, many citizens today do not understand the effects of combat on a human mind.

Many of us need companionship beyond what other humans can offer. There are millions of shelter animals all over this country and there are millions of veterans who would benefit from the bond those animals could provide. The animal-human connection is mutually beneficial.

On this PTSD Awareness Day, let’s raise awareness of this condition and support our awesome military community.

(Image courtesy of Lindsay Helms via 123rf.com)

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About the author

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Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.