“I Can Go Anywhere”: How Service Dogs Help Veterans With PTSD

It’s dinner time in Whittier, California, home of Air Force veteran Danyelle Clark-Gutierrez, and eagerly awaiting a bowl of canned and small dog food is Lisa, a yellow Labrador retriever 3. age.

Her fingernails click on the kitchen floor as she dances, Lisa looks more like an eager puppy than a well-trained service animal helping Clark-Gutierrez manage symptoms of stress disorder. straight after injury.

Clark-Gutierrez said: “Having her now, is like I could go anywhere. “And, yes, if someone comes to me, I’ll warn – I can run.”

The growing body of PTSD and service animal research paved the way for President Joe Biden to sign into law for Injured Puppy Aid Members (PAWS) for the Veterans Treatment Act. The act, enacted in August, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to open a service dog referral program for veterans with PTSD and launch a five-year pilot program in which veterans can PTSD trains service dogs for other veterans.

Clark-Gutierrez, 33, is among the 25 percent of female veterans who ever reported experiencing military sexual trauma while serving in the armed services of the United States.

Military sexual trauma, combat violence, and brain trauma are some of the experiences that increase the risk that service members will develop PTSD. Symptoms include flashbacks of the traumatic event, severe anxiety, nightmares, and increased vigilance — all normal reactions to experiencing or witnessing violence, according to psychologists. Someone receives a PTSD diagnosis when symptoms worsen or persist for months or years.

That’s what Clark-Gutierrez said happened to her after repeated sexual harassment by a pilot led to a physical assault about a decade ago. A lawyer with three children, she said that in order to feel safe leaving the house, she needed her husband by her side. After diagnosing Clark-Gutierrez with PTSD, doctors at the VA hospital prescribed a series of medications for her. At one point, Clark-Gutierrez said, her prescriptions amounted to more than a dozen pills a day.

“I took pills, and then I had to take pills with two or three side effects for each drug,” she said. “And every time they gave me a new drug, they had to give me three more. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was just so tired. So we started looking at other therapies. “

And that’s how she got her service dog, Lisa. Clark-Gutierrez’s husband, also an Air Force veteran, discovered the nonprofit group K9s for Warriors, which rescues dogs – many from shelters from being killed – and trains them to be service animals for veterans with PTSD. Lisa is one of about 700 dogs the team has paired with veterans to deal with symptoms caused by the traumatic experience.

“Now with Lisa, we cycle, go down to the park, go to the Home Depot,” says Clark-Gutierrez. “I go grocery shopping – normal people things that I have to do that I couldn’t do before Lisa.”

That’s no surprise to Maggie O’Haire, an associate professor of human-animal interactions at Purdue University. Her research shows that while service dogs aren’t necessarily a cure for PTSD, they can reduce its symptoms. Among her published studies To be a show that veterans who cooperate with these dogs are less angry and anxious and sleep better than those without service dogs. Another of her research suggest that service dogs reduce cortisol levels in trauma veterans.

“We actually saw patterns of stress hormones that resemble those of healthy adults without post-traumatic stress disorder,” says O’Haire.

A congressional VA study that focused on the impact of service dogs on veterans with PTSD and published this year found that people who cooperate with animals are less likely to attempt suicide. and improved their symptoms more than people without them.

So far, the federal canine referral program — which relies on dog nonprofit service organizations to pay for dogs and provide free supplies to veterans — has asked veterans to join. have mobility problems, such as limb loss, paralysis, or blindness. Veterans like Clark-Gutierrez who have PTSD but no physical disabilities have arranged for a service dog on their own.

The pilot program created by new federal law will give veterans with PTSD the opportunity to train mental health service dogs for other veterans. It is modeled on a program at the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California and will be offered at five VA medical centers nationwide in partnership with accredited service dog training organizations.

“This bill is really about therapy, on-the-job training or ‘coach training,'” said Adam Webb, a spokesman for the Senator. “We don’t anticipate the VA will begin prescribing PTSD service dogs, but the data we generate from this pilot program will likely be helpful in making that case in the future.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the pilot program will cost the VA about $19 million. The law no longer requires the VA to pay for the dogs. Instead, the agency will partner with accredited service dog organizations using private funds to cover the costs of adopting, training, and pairing these dogs with veterans.

Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s for Warriors, said the legislation represents policy welcome for the VA.

“For the past 10 years, the VA has basically told us that they don’t recognize service dogs helping a veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress,” says Diamond.

PTSD service dogs are often confused with emotional support dogs, says Diamond. The second provides companionship and does not provide training to assist people with disabilities. PTSD service dogs cost about $25,000 to adopt and train, he said.

Diamond explains that the “cover” command means “the dog will sit next to the warrior, look behind and warn them if someone approaches from behind.” The “block” command means the dog will “stand squarely and give them some space from whatever’s in front of them”.

Retired Army Sergeant. David Crenshaw of Kearny, New Jersey, says his service dog, Doc, changed his life.

“We teach in the military to have a friend to fight,” says Crenshaw. “And these service animals act as battle companions.”

A few months ago, Crenshaw experienced this first-hand. He typically avoids mass gatherings because prolonged heightened vigilance is one of the symptoms of his combat-induced PTSD. But this summer, Doc, a pointer and Labrador combined, helped Crenshaw navigate the crowds at Disney World — a first that makes sense for Crenshaw and his family of five.

“I’m not excited. I’m not nervous. I’m not upset,” said Crenshaw, 39. “It’s really, really amazing and I don’t even have to stop to think about it for a second. . . It just happens naturally.”

Thanks to Doc, Crenshaw said, he no longer takes PTSD pills or self-medicates with alcohol. Clark-Gutierrez said Lisa has also helped her quit drinking and stop taking VA-prescribed medications for panic attacks, nightmares and periods of disengagement.

Diamond says the dogs actually save VA money over time. “Our warriors are less likely to use expensive prescription drugs, less likely to use other VA services, and more likely to go to school or work. So that’s it. Mutually beneficial.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom specializing in the production of in-depth coverage of health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Exploration, KHN is one of the three main activities in KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). The KFF is a nonprofit organization privileged to provide information on health issues to the nation.


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Ordered to KHN’s free Morning Briefing. “I Can Go Anywhere”: How Service Dogs Help Veterans With PTSD

Caroline Bleakley

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