Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, more commonly known by its acronym PTSD, develops after a terrible ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. This harm may have actually happened to the individual, a loved one, or he/she may have simply witnessed a harmful event. For veterans suffering from PTSD, avoidance of those things that trigger these unpleasant memories of trauma is their primary way of coping.
PTSD was initially associated with war veterans; however, it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents such as rape, child abuse, natural disasters, and even car accidents. When in danger, it’s only natural to be afraid. This fear triggers a defense mechanism in the body known as the “fight-or-flight response and is a healthy reaction designed to protect the body from harm. For individuals suffering from PTSD, this reaction is damaged or changed resulting in high levels of stress that continue until the danger has passed.
There are three primary categories of symptoms that result from PTSD: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, and hyper-arousal symptoms. Although natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event, those lasting longer than a few weeks and becoming an ongoing problem could be PTSD. Symptoms that make it difficult to handle day to day activities or obligations need to be addressed since PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders.
The good news is there is help for sufferers of this mentally and physically debilitating condition that extends beyond the traditional methods like therapy and medication. That would be “man’s best friend” – the dog! Owning a dog can lift your mood, help you feel less stressed, provide companionship, and so much more. Veterans who use PTSD-trained service or support dogs say the animals help them manage their condition by performing such tasks like waking them from a nightmare, lying on their chest to aid in calming a panic attack, or creating a buffer in large crowds.
Research continues in an effort to determine if dogs can provide a disability service for persons with PTSD. The VA, having suspended their research in 2012, has resumed it to determine if there are things a dog can do for a veteran with PTSD that would qualify the animal as a Service Dog for PTSD. Currently, the VA does not provide service dogs for either mental health or physical conditions; however, if research supports the use of service dogs for PTSD they will provide veterinary care for such dogs.
With some 400,000 veterans diagnosed with PTSD annually, this four-legged therapy may be the perfect step for veterans in a long journey back to wholeness.