Service dogs are just for the blind or those in wheelchairs, right? Wrong. Even since injured and ill soldiers began returning from Iraq and Afghanistan at the beginning of the decade, a number of groups have been raising and training shelter dogs for use by a wide range of disabled veterans. While some dogs help their owners walk down the street or navigate their way around town, other dogs help their owners to cope with stressful situations, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
One veteran, Alex Carter, returned home from combat suffering from a traumatic brain injury, depression, and PTSD. His family saw at once that he simply wasn’t the same person who left. Soon, though, they connected with a service dog group that specialized in training dogs to help veterans get their normal lives back. Now Carter is accompanied by Manny, a shelter dog who has been taught to help his master get through everyday post-combat struggles. The dog helps him to comfortably leave the house and participate in regular activities, and at night the dog is there to support him through bad dreams and night terrors.
Another veteran, Bill Campbell, came home from Iraq with debilitating PTSD that reared its head with depression, memory loss, anxiety, panic attacks, and fear of open spaces. He is helped, however, by Pax, a dog that was trained for two years by a prisoner through the Puppies Behind Bars program. Pax understands dozens of commands and can do everything from helping his master remember his daily medication to alerting Bill to approaching strangers (something the former solider has struggled with since returning home). Pax has allowed Campbell to transition back to the real world with comfort, security, and support.
There are a number of groups and programs around the country that pairs disabled veterans with trained service dogs at no cost to the vets. To learn more, ask your local VA office about a program in your area.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.