K9s For Warriors is a Veteran service organization that provides Service Dogs to Veterans living with PTSD, TBI and/or military sexual trauma. These dogs are trained extensively to assist their companions in their individual healing and recovery. In the following article, K9s For Warriors discusses the power of a Veteran’s bond with their Service Dog, and how these animals help those with invisible injuries.
We lose roughly 20 Veterans to suicide every day. Service members are exposed to a myriad of traumatic events during their time in the military, which upon returning home can manifest into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues among veterans. Without the proper treatment, these mental health problems, along with several other factors, can play a large role in suicide rates among Veterans.
PTSD, characterized by intrusive thoughts and emotional numbing, casts a dark shadow over daily life. It makes it difficult for the sufferer to function, let alone connect with others emotionally. This heavy burden affects families, relationships, and even reintegration into civilian society.
Today, 7 out of every 100 Veterans suffer from PTSD, a statistic that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
K9s For Warriors explains that in the continuous fight against suicide among Veterans, the concept of utilizing Service Dogs for coping with PTSD was introduced. Below, is more on how these programs were started, how they work, and how the strong connection between man and dog contributes to the journey of healing.
K9s For Warriors on the Emergence of PTSD Service Dog Programs
Service Dogs were initially partnered with war heroes to assist them with their physical injuries after discharge from service. Common war injuries included blindness, hearing loss, amputations, and mobility issues. In 2006, Assistance Dogs International (ADI) placed a highly trained Service Dog with a Veteran who was a bilateral amputee.
As years went by, more and more Veterans requested Service Dogs not only to help with their physical injuries, but also with their emotional traumas. It was a success. K9s For Warriors explains that a pilot program for utilizing Service Dogs for PTSD was developed in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2018 that the first comprehensive standards for the placement of Psychiatric Service Dogs for Veterans were fully developed.
Today, it has been scientifically proven that PTSD Service Dogs have significantly helped in reducing symptoms, improving mental health, and enhancing social interactions. As per the study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Warriors who were paired with a Service Dog displayed a 3-point improvement on the PTSD checklist for the military. Symptoms of depression and suicide risks were also reduced.
Canine Companionship: How it Works
K9s For Warriors notes that Veterans seeking to be paired with a Service Dog can apply through their website.
The Application Process
K9s For Warriors accepts applications from any military Veteran with a verified clinical diagnosis of PTSD, military sexual trauma (MST), or traumatic brain injury (TBI).
K9s For Warriors explains that once the application is submitted, they will perform a background check and will conduct an interview to get to know the applicant better. The interviewer will ask about his/her disability, home, work, family, personality, and more.
This helps to find the most suitable companion for the applicant. Once accepted into the program, a class date will be scheduled, and training will ensue.
The Training Process
Training is the most important part of the program. The applicant will need to attend training at their assigned site. Housing and meals are provided, at no cost to the Veteran.
K9s For Warriors says that to be fully immersed in the process, the Veteran is required to stay for the duration of the training, which lasts 3 weeks. Companions or caregivers are not allowed on campus during this time to allow the Veteran to form an unwavering relationship with his/her Service Dog with no outside distractions.
Graduation commences on the last day of the 3-week training. As of August 2023, K9s For Warriors has graduated more than 900 Warriors with Service Dogs!
Healing and Recovery
Dogs can have a calming effect on people. By offering constant companionship, the presence of a Service Dog helps alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also encourages the Veteran to get outside and be more active, which is also a great stress buster.
K9s For Warriors also notes that these dogs provide a sense of protection and security. Often, the bond between the Veteran and canine becomes so strong that the Service Dog can recognize and interrupt nightmares and sleep disturbances. By waking the Veteran from a nightmare (a common symptom of PTSD), the dog can provide a sense of security to his/her Veteran, helping to minimize the impact of traumatic flashbacks during sleep.
Through their unwavering emotional support and constant presence, Service Dogs can offer Veterans a sense of connection, mindfulness, and reduced feelings of isolation, which in turn empowers these brave individuals to engage more confidently with the people around them.