Photo: Stanislav Komogorov
We've all had our bouts with stress. Some days it can be so bad you just want to curl up in bed and shut the world out. Soldiers who serve abroad have things much worse. They see horrible things up close that most civilians can barely watch on tv.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Animal assisted therapy began as early as 1945 when we supported therapy dogs programs to provide comfort and motivation to injured World War II soldiers. 1 of 8 soldiers will get post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome. In some areas of the military, it can be as high as 20%.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating psychological condition triggered by a major traumatic event, or a catastrophic accident. It is marked by upsetting memories or thoughts of the ordeal, "blunting" of emotions, increased arousal, and sometimes severe personality changes.Source: www.freedictionary.com
It affects soldiers in different ways. Some have to cope with physical injuries in addition to their anxiety and/or depression. Now, it seems that the VA is cutting back on aid to help the soldiers receive these dogs. Part of the reason is the fact that they want to keep higher standards between what types of dogs are being trained. Also, if the program is not properly monitored, many soldiers can go in and adopt a dog and say they have this dog for PTSD, when they really don't need it. However, the likelihood of that is rare.
The cost of fighting overseas is not cheap. Each soldier costs the United States roughly $815,000 USD to go overseas. A small fraction of that (around $30,000 for a sargent) goes to a soldier's paycheck.
The top reason for soldiers being hospitalized after their tour of duty in the post-9/11 era is mental illness. Post-traumatic stress disorder does not just affect the soldier but their loved ones as well.
When a soldier has PTSD, the cost to the military is $10,000 USD per year at minimum. When you factor in the number of soldiers together, that amounts to over $5 billion USD per year. Many drugs have been prescribed such as benzodiazepine. Drugs like these have a tendency to be addictive after a certain period of time. Roughly $2 million was included in the 2010 Omnibus Appropriations Act for programs related to veterans’ service dogs. The amount allocated to this type of natural therapy pales by comparison to the amount used for prescription drugs.
It roughly takes anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 USD to train a service dog. These dogs will be about 1 to 2 years when they enter a soldier's life. They stay with that soldier for roughly 10 years. So, in about 2 to 3 years, the cost of a service dog will pay for itself.
Benefits of Service Dogs For PTSD
Many soldiers suffering from PTSD that have received therapeutic service dogs have noticed an immediate difference. Also, soldiers who have service dogs reported lower stress levels, decreased depression, better impulse control and improved sleep. Even more significant is that many of these soldiers have indicated that they finally feel like themselves again. Also, programs like Puppies Behind Bars helps prisoners achieve a lower recidivism rate because the inmates have interaction and emotional bonding with these animals that they are training.
After seeing and experiencing the horrors of combat abroad, the effects of war are huge. The best result of having these these dogs is the ability to make a soldier an active participant and not a passive observer. They give the soldiers the safe haven that drugs and current work situation can't. For the ones, who aren't lucky enough to receive PTSD service dogs, they struggle and are lucky to get by on $600 per month. All in all, the benefits of PTSD greatly outweigh the disadvantages.
If we as a country are to spend billions of dollars to send soldiers to protect us by risking their lives, then we should be willing to spend an equal amount of money to help them come back so they can feel protected, safe and live their lives they way they did before they left. With the upcoming elections coming up, this is something we all should keep in mind, so it doesn't get swept aside as being insignificant.
Organizations For Therapeutical Service Dogs
- American Humane Association
- Warrior Canine Connection, Brookfield, MD
- Patriot Paws Service Dogs, Rockwall, TX
- This Able Veteran, Carbondale, IL