Letter: Include service dogs in treatment for PTSD

From: Jennifer Schneider

Louisville, Kentucky

Many troops are coming home from overseas to fight a new war, a war that is invisible and causing them to fight alone. While loss of limb(s) has been the signature injury of previous wars, a new invisible wound has become the signature injury of post 9/11 veterans. Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder includes extensive selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), medications such as Prozac or Zoloft, and different therapeutic modalities like cognitive behavior therapy. These medications and modalities are highly prescribed and covered by the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, yet they will not cover a promising life-changing tool that is a service dog. Despite the expansive research supporting service dogs for veterans with PTSD, the VA continues to ignore this crucial life-changing alternative.

The symptoms of PTSD can become so severe that a veteran may completely withdraw from his family and community. Service dogs are trained to relieve the symptom of hypervigilance, which can prevent a veteran from going to public places, such as the grocery. The service dog can help provide a sense of additional safety and even clear a room for safety hazards if needed. Taking medications on time is crucial to prevent other symptoms and health issues. Service dogs are trained to help remind veterans when they should take medications. Night terrors are another debilitating symptom of PTSD that can cause a veteran to vividly relive traumatic events and lash out in their sleep. Due to these, they may rarely get adequate sleep or attempt to stay awake for long periods of time to avoid them. Service dogs can sense the night terror occurring and wake their veteran before it becomes too severe. Most of all, a service dog allows veterans to lead a normal life again and not be controlled by their PTSD.

There are many successful service dog programs in the U.S. If the VA recognized service dogs as a form of treatment, they could immediately collaborate with existing programs to provide the service dogs and training. Our veterans risked their lives to ensure our freedom, and now many are fighting alone for their own lives. It is our duty to fight for them and ensure they have the ability to lead a healthy and normal life.