A non-profit organization, Canine Companions for Independence Inc., has started a pilot program to train service dogs to help military veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Based out of California, the group is starting local by pairing specially trained dogs with veterans but hopes to expand to a national level.
As reported by Stars and Stripes, the dogs are chosen based on their temperament, confidence, energy and reactions to stimuli. CCI hopes to have around 20 dogs placed with military veterans by 2019.
Canine Companions for Independence Inc. is already in the business of pairing service dogs with military veterans to study their beneficial effects related to PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs began a comprehensive study in 2014 to measure the effectiveness of service dogs as a treatment for veterans with PTSD. However, that study has yet to conclude and the results are even further from being published.
CCI is one of the partners providing service dogs for the VA study, but they are working on their own program in the meantime to help as many veterans as they can.
“We believe that dogs can be trained in tasks that can help mitigate aspects of PTSD and help someone in their process of recovery along with other resources that exist already,” said CCI instructor Sarah Birman.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD is “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”
The VA is attempting to complete the first scientific study on PTSD and service dogs. An initial study by the VA began in 2011, but was terminated and the new study began in 2014.
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“This is the first time — aside from the VA study — that we will be training dogs in specific skills that are designed to address the symptoms of PTSD,” said Sarah Birman of CCI. “As we’ve worked with veterans with PTSD through the VA study, we’ve had the opportunity to really get to know them, hear some really incredible stories of the ways in which the dogs have helped them.”
The pilot program by Canine Companions for Independence Inc. follows similar a curriculum being used in the VA study, though it is not as tightly controlled. The program started with five local veterans in the Santa Rosa, California area and is expanding outward.
“Service dogs are another tool that is available to veterans,” Birman said. “I think the more options that we make available to people the more people will be able to hopefully find something that works for them. PTSD can be an incredibly debilitating condition and really tremendously isolating, and so, if through these dogs we can make a difference in the lives of even just a handful of veterans, then it will absolutely have been worth it.”
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