Photo: Animal Planet
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is expensive, not just in dollars, but the number of medically dependent U.S. men returning home from war, and the unsettling number who take their own lives.When so many troops began arriving home from Afghanistan and Iraq suffering from PTSD, Rick Yount decided to do something about it.
Yount’s a former social worker who combined his experience as a social worker and service dog trainer, founding “Paws for Purple Hearts” to assist troops suffering from PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).
Paws for Purple Hearts started in 2008 at the Palo Alto VA’s Men’s Trauma Recovery Program in Menlo Park, California and its success led to others similar programs like the Warrior Transition Brigade at Walter Reed.
In 2011, Yount, and his program, found a permanent home with Meg Daley Olmert at the Warrior Canine Connection.
Click here for a peek inside the Warrior Canine Connection >
Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI have been encouraged to join these voluntary programs as an extension of their therapy. Participants spend three months helping to train service dogs for other disabled veterans.
According to Yount, the warrior ethos of taking care of your own is fully integrated in the program with troops training service dogs for other military members.
“Looking back now, it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and got the opportunity to do,” Staff Sgt. Spencer Milo told Animal Planet.
Staff Sgt. Milo was diagnosed with PTSD after a child suicide bomber attacked his patrol in Afghanistan. As part of his therapy he worked with Nemo and Valerie, two Warrior Connection Canines. “Both Nemo and Valerie helped me be to be happy again,” Milo said. “They’ve helped make me realise that I can talk. That it’s ok to talk.”
Yount says that while there is a sense of loss at the end of the training program, it is also associated with positives including a sense of accomplishment in helping other vets, and in helping the dog make it through another level of their training.
A dozen dogs are currently being trained within the program by about 300 current and former members of the military. Yount points out the program isn’t a “mass production” of service dogs, but rather focuses on individuals and making sure they get the help they need.
“With combat trauma, the human trusts is pretty well destroyed. People tried to kill you. And the dog is a safe harbor,” Olmert told Animal Planet.
Yount said the program helps PTSD sufferers deal with their emotions, and manage them, since dogs take cues from body language and tone of voice.
Yount recalls telling one trainer to issue commands in an “Arnold Schwarzenegger” voice and praises in “Richard Simmons” voice, to have a trainer reply, “Did they tell you we have PTSD? We are emotionally numb. We don’t sound like Richard Simmons.”
Warriors for Canines works with its members to help them over the bridge they need to cross to start reconnecting with other living creatures.
Every little bit helps, as Sgt. Milo said,”There is a reason they say man’s best friend. Because [these dogs] are just that.”
National Intrepid centre of Excellence, which encourages soldiers to work with the WCC, focuses on healing invisible wounds of war
By training dogs for veterans with disabilities, veterans with PTSD are provided with the opportunity to overcome survivors guilt by helping another service member
The WCC dogs are trained to do everyday things like open doors, pay cashiers, and assist veterans with putting on socks
Currently, there are 12 dogs in the WCC training program. WCC has a breeding program that breeds Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers
The WCC makes sure that all the dogs are healthy so as to avoid potential emotional roulette. Veterans should not receive a dog only to find out a year or two in that the dog has health issues and have to start all over again with a different dog
Meg Daley Olmert, the director of research and development at the WCC, says that four studies have proved that friendly interaction between humans and animals helps release oxytocin - the tend and befriend hormone - in both
Training Valerie provided Sgt. Milo with a buffer as he re-entered civilian life because most often people's attention was on her
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