The second largest war in the history of the United States is coming to an end. However, the physical and emotional war for the soldiers that have survived is just beginning, being fought right here on American soil.
The victims of this war are not only those soldiers that lost their lives or were physically wounded, but the victims are also those that survived and bear the invisible scars of emotional trauma.
As a result of these deep seeded wounds, many of the more than two million men and women who fought and killed while serving our country, will end up taking one more life. Their own.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), formerly known as “shell shock” is a mental condition unnecessarily claiming the lives of veterans. The Department of Defense reports that 18 veterans commit suicide every day. And veterans make up 1 out of every 5 suicides in America.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops as a result of a traumatic experience and involves symptoms of vigilance (i.e., being overly alert and aware of surroundings); numbness (i.e., having difficulty feeling emotions), and re-experiencing (i.e., flashbacks and nightmares).
Medications and psychotherapy work for fewer than half of the patients diagnosed. This intolerable success rate has the Department of Defense and researchers seeking new ways to prevent and cure this condition.
Equally disturbing and intolerable is the fact that in America an unwanted shelter animal is dispensed of every 8 seconds.
The devastating affects of PTSD in veterans range from social withdrawal, to emotional escalation, flashbacks, night terrors and finally, suicidal ideation. In recent studies the therapeutic benefits of canine companionship are being revealed and championed as one of the more successful treatments for this emotional epidemic among soldiers returning home.
Programs, like Paws for Purple Hearts, designed to teach veterans how to train dogs that will in turn help their fellow veterans, are proving that unconditional love and acceptance from a dog can be the first step in the recovery from PTSD.
According to the most recent summary of veteran health conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 44 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who sought treatment at a medical facility have been diagnosed with one or more possible mental disorders, such as PTSD and depressive disorders.
However, that number is limited in that it represents only those veterans who sought help at a VA medical facility. As of September 30, 2008, the figure represents approximately 24 percent of the total number of troops who have served in conflicts.
Resources and Therapeutic Treatments
The Department of Veteran Affairs, as well as many private doctors and treatment facilities, have numerous programs in place to help veterans who are suffering from PTSD. Along with medications, therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) as well as others have shown by research to be effective treatments for the condition.
However, Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) used as supplemental therapy is proving to be the salient route toward recovery for many veterans who otherwise could not otherwise find recourse from the psychological and physiological impact of their experiences.
Pet oriented therapy began in the 1960’s with a focus on child development. We now know that animals and Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has incredible benefits to human beings from managing every day stressors to serious illnesses such as: diabetes, heart disease, Autism, and Altzhimer’s. We are now seeing how animals, in this case dogs, are helping facilitate the healing process for veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other physical and mental conditions in the form of companion, therapy, and service dogs.