More of the social and emotional struggles of veterans are being brought to light, and veterans are receiving more support for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), physical injuries, and mental health issues during their transition back to civilian life. One of the biggest therapies and support mechanisms for vets is providing them with pets and service animals, and this human-animal bond is proving lifesaving for many of our heroes.
It goes without saying that service men and women experience high rates of trauma, and many struggle with anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues. As many as 20% of returning military personnel suffer from PTSD.
Because of their calm and loyal nature, pets can often provide reassurance to those struggling with mental illness or trauma. Many studies have shown improvement in mood, stress, and general well-being for pet owners. In some cases, pairing a veteran with a homeless animal that has also experienced trauma can provide them with an increased bond and sense of connection with another creature who is moving forward, taking steps away from that old life.
In some cases, specially-trained service dogs can provide anxiety alerts and can even help a veteran with things like waking them during a nightmare. These dogs have been specially selected for emotional resiliency and undergo training for 18 months or longer.
Some veterans report an increased sense of purpose and social connection through pet parenthood. Whether it’s having a structure to their daily routine that includes feeding and walking their pet or helping them to meet and connect with others on their regular walks or outings. Pets are not just an ice breaker. They help veterans feel more confident and can provide a stepping stone for those struggling to meet and connect with others. Building relationships is also essential to mental and emotional health and recovery from other military-related trauma.
Strengthening the Body
Service men and women can experience a great blow to their self-esteem if they've experienced physical injuries during their service. People who once worked in terrible conditions for hours or days on end might find themselves struggling with minor tasks at home. But pets encourage people to be more active. Pets walk and play without judging how fast a person walks or whether they can get out of a chair at all.
While any pet can provide the basic motivation for interaction and play, it takes a specially-trained strong service dog to provide additional physical aid to people struggling with physical disabilities. Service dogs can help with bracing and stabilization, as well as help with other tasks. And, as an added bonus, these same service dogs can provide the mental and emotional support their person might also need.
Helping Homeless Animals
As much as pet-assisted therapy is motivated for the veteran, we sometimes overlook the benefit for homeless pets. Many of the programs that pair service personnel with an animal utilize rescues and shelters for the animals. Sometimes a dog is too excitable to present well as a pet to potential adopters, but it’s this drive that can make the dog so motivated and trainable for these special programs. Once a pet is pulled from a shelter, both the pet and the person receive special training from qualified trainers to build the bond and provide as much benefit as possible.
It’s an amazing time to live in when we see veterans finding new hope, reassurance, and self-confidence, as well as increased physical independence and well-being after experiencing PTSD, brain or body injury, or even military sexual trauma. Any program that promotes the animal human bond and provides aid to those who have given so much for their country is a worthwhile venture.