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Celebrate Veterans and Their Service Dogs


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Increasingly, America is understanding what a real hero is: It’s those men and women who put their lives on the line serving in the U.S military. But, let’s not forget about the U.S. military working dogs.

For dogs and people, it’s not uncommon to return home damaged after war, and in the end, what they need is one another.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, here’s the number of veterans who develop PTSD in a given year by service era:

  • Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 of every 100 veterans (11-20 percent)
  • Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 of every 100 (12 percent)
  • Vietnam War: About 15 of every 100 (15 percent)—At the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS) estimated that about 30 of every 100 (30 percent) Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

Sadly, many soldiers are never diagnosed. And, some are diagnosed but are never reported to the government by their private physicians, so the numbers are likely much higher.

And, from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs website:

Another cause of PTSD in the military can be military sexual trauma (MST). This is any sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurs while you are in the military. MST can happen to both men and women and can occur during peacetime, training, or war.

Among veterans who use VA health care, about:

  • 23 of 100 women (23 percent) reported sexual assault when in the military.
  • 55 of 100 women (55 percent) and 38 of 100 men (38 percent) have experienced sexual harassment when in the military.

Similarly, these numbers are likely underreported.

And, still again from the VA, a new report indicates that every day, 20 to 22 veterans take their own lives.

Of course, this is way above the national average for suicides. Of the entire U.S. population, there are about 118 suicides daily, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Suicides are on the rise in America, and there are many reasons, but one of several contributing factors is that, of those 118 suicides, about 20 to 22 are veterans. Only about 7 percent of the U.S. population are veterans. Obviously, the number of suicides among U.S. veterans is high compared to the general population. Veterans are also more likely than the general population to get divorced or become homeless. 

So, what is the same agency, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, and the U.S. government doing to address these problems?

Unfortunately, the answer is often nothing, as many veterans slip through the cracks of the bureaucracy. Other solutions may be counseling and medication. In the end, clearly the best of efforts isn’t paying off. A lot of money is being spent to help these veterans, and it’s not working.

What’s the solution? I don’t have a complete answer, but I know what can help: dogs.

Ralph (Ed) Matson at WGN radio with Beef

There have been numerous reports about the impact service dogs (and even pet dogs) have on soldiers with PTSD. The reports are published in scientific literature and anecdotally described in the popular press. Veterans who have service dogs are far less likely to commit suicide than those who don’t.

I interviewed Ralph (Ed) Matson, a real war hero, who explained that without his service dog, Beef, he never could have come to WGN Radio to talk about his condition on a podcast. He says his dog saved his life. I’ve long lost count of the number of veterans who have used those exact words.

According to medical professionals (including many at the VA), as well as organizations that train service dogs for veterans with PTSD, vets paired with service dogs always show improvement. Not only do suicide rates drop significantly, so does substance abuse. Divorce rates of soldiers with PTSD, which are far higher than the general population, return to numbers more consistent with the general populous when dogs are in the picture.

The number of pharmaceuticals prescribed for PTSD patients is sometimes obscene, but for those who get a service dog, this changes, too.

Ray Ganiche, of Navarre, Florida, a Vietnam Army veteran, was diagnosed with PTSD and ultimately paired with a German Shepherd service dog. It wasn’t long before his nightmares and night sweats disappeared. His dog, Dazzle, awakens Navarre just as the terrifying dreams begin, and today Ganiche can sleep through the night. He requires far fewer meds than before he was teamed with Dazzle.

 

The good news is that organizations like 1Pet1Vet and K9’s for Warriors are working hard to raise money to place service or companion dogs with veterans. The result is clear: The dogs save lives. And, some of these programs even rescue shelter dogs, which means the lives of dogs are being saved, too.

I’m unsure how the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, which is responsible for supporting veterans, doesn’t support the proven value of service dogs (even pet dogs) for our veterans, especially those diagnosed with PTSD.

 

 

 

 

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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