Health

Man's best friend helps vets with PTSD

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Bay Area program to help veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is now sparking interest nationwide. Instead of medication, this program relies on another method to calm the symptoms, dogs.

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Watching them work, it is easy to see how service dogs in training might someday help a physically injured vet. But with a closer look, one can start to understand how they might help the emotionally-wounded as well.

Jose Reyes suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

"Since I came back from Iraq I've constantly had nightmares," he told ABC7. "And, since I've had this dog, and I've had him two months now, I guess he realizes when I have nightmares and he'll nudge on me until I wake up."

Reyes and his golden retriever Menudo are part of a canine therapy program begun at the Menlo Park Veteran's Hospital. It is called "Paws for Purple Hearts." There, veterans being treated for PTSD are put to work training service dogs.

Director Rick Yount says the bonding skills developed during the training process help draw the vets out emotionally.

"In order to traina service dog for a fellow veteran, you have to employ a lot of good communication skills and training the dog provides practice for veterans who are learning communication skills in this program," he said.

Two vets are paired up with each dog and share responsibility for the training. At the same time, many of them are fighting symptoms ranging from insomnia to clinical depression.

"If I have a dog that I always know I have to be responsible of, and depends on me, then that helps me gain back my self-responsibility and to look forward to things I really need to be working on," says veteran Brandon Overton.

Several veterans told ABC7 that having the dogs at night has allowed them to sleep without medication. Therapy manager Melissa Puckett believes helping sleep and substance abuse issues alone could make the program cost effective.

Puckett says, "You do save money, in the sense if someone goes through programs after programs after programs, we're talking staff, millions of dollars."

Staff members are hoping that research will help document the psychological benefits they have seen in veterans like Joshua Ochoa who recently suffered a panic attack watching violent movie with a friend.

"He walked up, handed me the leash and said, 'Here take him.' It was like a medic coming to me, and rescued me because I was out there," he says.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would set up three tests sites modeled on the Menlo Park program, to study the effectiveness of using service dogs in training to treat PTSD.

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afghanistan war, iraq war, health
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