Healing Heroes: "Battle Buddies" for PTSD

Constant gunfire, mayhem, and death, for troops who saw action in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the dust settles the nerves do not always follow.

While the battlefield is causing tens-of-thousands of physical injuries, it's also resulted in an overwhelming number of psychological scars. So are animals the answer to treat veterans with PTSD?

War is hell. Coming home can be hell too.

"I really get overwhelmed really easy," explains Sgt. Michael Bossio who has PTSD.

"I just explode," says Willie Cahhoun a Vietnam Veteran with PTSD.

These men have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Veterans' Affairs reports in 2012, more than half a million veterans were treated for PTSD. Close to 120,000 served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many are prescribed drugs like Zoloft or Paxil.

But Sergeant Michael Bossio says his pet Harley is the best medicine.

"He helps ease my anxiety when, when we are out in public," says Sgt. Bossio.

Vietnam Veteran Willie Calhoun says before he had his dog Chelsie he was on high doses of four PTSD drugs. With her, he's down to one. So why do the dogs make such a difference for the vets? The truth is the research is severely lacking.

"It is faith based evidence and the military and the government do not like faith based evidence," says Bart Sherwood the Program Director at TADSAW

The VA started a first of its kind study on PTSD service dogs, but enrollment was suspended last year. A spokesman tells us the VA "is working to develop a new plan to carry out this research, potentially in multiple locations." Until the evidence is confirmed by science, the VA will not reimburse vets specifically with mental conditions like PTSD for their service dog's veterinary care, travel expenses, or anything else. Even without scientific proof, the impact of the pups is clear to these vets.

"It's good to be out and about," says Calhoun.

The American Humane Society and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York are urging the government to reimburse vets with PTSD for service dog-related costs.

Meanwhile, "Train a Dog, Save a Warrior" is one of many PTSD service dog organizations across the U.S.

Officials say in many cases they can train a vet's existing family dog to be a service animal, as long as it has the right temperament. It also trains rescued dogs for the program.


TOPIC: Healing Heroes: "Battle Buddies" for PTSD
REPORT: MB # 3571b

BACKGROUND: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs after a traumatic event. During the event, an individual may feel that their life is threatened or others' lives are in danger. After the event occurs, the individual may feel confused, angry, and scared. If the feelings don't go away or get worse, they probably have PTSD. These events often include: child sexual or physical abuse, terrorist attacks, serious accidents, natural disasters, sexual or physical assault, or combat and military exposure. (Source: www.brainlinemilitary.org) The direct cause of PTSD is unknown, but psychological, genetic, social, and physical factors are involved. PTSD changes the body's response to stress by affecting the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves. It is unclear as to why PTSD occurs in some people but not others. (Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

SYMPTOMS: PTSD symptoms fall into three main categories:
1. Avoidance: emotional "numbing," feeling detached, being unable to remember aspects of the trauma, having a lack of interest in normal activities, and the feeling of not having a future.
2. "Reliving" the event: flashback episodes, repeated nightmares of the event, repeated upsetting memories of the event, and strong, uncomfortable reactions to situations that is a reminder of the event.
3. Arousal: difficulty concentrating, having an exaggerated response to things that are startling, feeling more aware (hypervigilance), feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger, and having trouble falling and staying asleep. (Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

For further information regarding PTSD go to the National Center for PTSD: http://ptsd.va.gov.

NEW ADVANCES: The Department of Veterans' Affairs reports that in 2012, more than 500 thousand veterans were treated for PTSD. PTSD is rarely cured and can vary between wounded warriors. An alternative to support groups and staying medicated comes from an organization called Train a Dog Save a Warrior (TADSAW). They offer service dogs to help combat the physical, behavioral, and emotional symptoms of PTSD. TADSAW Service Dogs have been proved useful for alleviating symptoms such as: anxiety, fear, panic, irritability, depression, withdrawal, hyper-vigilance, loss of trust, isolation, nightmares, reoccurring flashbacks, phobias of crowds, phobias of e-mail, phobias of phones, phobias of stores and buildings, insomnia, fatigue, migraines, paranoia, sleepwalking, suicidal thoughts, suspicion, poor self-esteem, and anti-social behavior. If the applicant does not have a personal dog, TADSAW will choose one from a rescue shelter. There is no charge for the dog. All vaccinations are current, dog food, water bowls, leash and collar, bedding, and dog food are all provided when the dog is given to the applicant. If any health issues arise during the training, TADSAW takes care of the bills. However, if the dog was rescued by the applicant prior to TADSAW, then the applicant is considered the owner of the dog, and it would be treated similarly as a personal dog. A short answer as to how a dog helps a warrior with PTSD is that petting a dog decreases release of cortisol and increases the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream. The decrease in cortisol can lower blood pressure and cause a sense of relaxation. The increase in oxytocin, which is the same chemical that is released when a mother nurses her baby, will facilitate a sense of security and well-being. For example, a female warrior with PTSD can have sleep disorders and often awakens to find herself barricaded in a closet with a knife. With a TADSAW Service Dog, she is able to sleep. Just by having the dog around allow the warrior to trust the dog to assess the safety of their surroundings. Training of the dog is extensive and costly, but at no charge to the warrior. Training lasts three to four months. Once training is completed and the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizenship classification is awarded to the team, and after intensive training to meet the specific needs of the specific warrior, the dog will be eligible for service dog designation, according to the American Disabilities Act. The difference between service animals and therapy animals is that service animals are legally defined and trained to meet the disability-related needs of the handler and are not considered pets. Therapy animals are not legally defined by federal law, but some states have laws to define therapy animals. Therapy animals are not limited to working with people who have disabilities. Federal laws have no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy animals in public places that have "no pets" policies. (Source: www.tadsaw.org) For more information on PTSD service dogs go to: http://tadsaw.org. There are other organizations who off service dogs for vets. For example, one non-profit organization called Barn Yard Ventures donates dogs for vets in a wheelchair. For further information visit: http://barnyardventures.org/.


Bart Sherwood
Program Director
(210) 643 2901

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