Service dogs aid veterans with physical, mental health needs like PTSD – MetroWest Daily News



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Anyone who comes to the veterans services center in Billerica Town Hall may be greeted by Mocha, a black Labrador mix.

It’s one of many duties Mocha provides as a service dog for the town’s Veterans Services Director, Donnie Jarvis.

An Army combat veteran, Jarvis served in Iraq for a year between 2007 and 2008, and in Afghanistan briefly in 2011 and 2012. Jarvis specialized in seeking out improvised explosive devices, also called IEDs.

In Afghanistan, Jarvis said on Feb. 13, 2012, “I hit a 250-pound explosive that rolled my vehicle. ”

Awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries, Jarvis said he suffers hip, knee and back problems, along with post-traumatic stress disorder, vertigo , and hearing loss in his right ear.  

“I spent six months at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, and when I came home, I was on 16 different medications, ” Jarvis said. “I was the one who approached my social worker, and said, ‘I need to find a better solution. ‘”

With a letter from a clinical social worker, Jarvis applied to Operation Delta Dog, which enlists shelter dogs to train as service dogs with regard to veterans with post-traumatic tension disorder and brain injuries.   Jarvis and Mocha were paired up and trained through the program.

“Mocha has helped with becoming comfortable again. Comfortable in public settings, comfortable with engaging with others and comfortable even leaving my house, ” Jarvis stated.

Jarvis added, “When I got back from Fort Belvoir Community Hospital I wore sunglasses all day, every day for almost two years. This was a result from my TBI. ”

TBI is short for traumatic brain injury. Jarvis mentioned, “I didn’t want to leave my house, or do much. Mocha helped me work through that. He has helped me with anxiety, depression and sleep. I accredit much of my life today to him. ”

Jarvis, who has helped veterans acquire service dogs, wrote a book, ” Mocha, the Superhero Dog . ”

A service dog can help veterans with myriad disabilities and health issues.

But veterans advocates and service dog organizations say there’s a lot to consider, including whether a dog will provide the veteran with the right support, and whether the veteran can provide a dog with proper love and care.

Where do support dogs come from?

Some organizations provide purpose-bred dogs. For example , Service Dog Project , of Ipswich, breeds European Great Danes, typically larger and taller than their relative, the American Great Dane. The dogs mainly help people with balance plus mobility issues who may be prone to falls, said Lynn Downing, founder of Support Dog Project.

“We have a total of over 200 dogs that have been paired and matched … 27% of them went to veterans, ” Downing said. “Our dogs are big enough that if the person is off balance, the dog is going to sense it. If the person is going to fall, the dog will fall with them. They can hold onto the dog, and pull themselves up. They do have to have some strength in their arms. ”

NEADS , based in Princeton, breeds black and yellow Labrador retrievers as service dogs, including for veterans. “We are looking for dogs that are more obedient, following the command of the person they are matched along with. We raise them through puppyhood to go into the services program, ” said Katie Hanna, manager of client services for NEADS.

Clear Path for Veterans New England, a multi-service organization for veterans at Devens, also works with breeders. “The reason is we try to guarantee health, inch said Nick Nadeau, the particular organization’s founder.

“We don’t look at the breed. We look more for the personality, and what the dog is going to be used for, inches Nadeau said. “If you need help with mobility, I avoid want to give you a small canine. ”

Can a pet dog or a rescue dog train to become a support dog? Company 2 Heroes does just that

Some businesses work with pet or rescue dogs. Operation Delta Dog, founded in Chelmsford and now based in Hollis, New Hampshire, takes shelter dogs to pair with veterans regarding training as service canines.

Kate Van Auken, who served 28 years in the Army, founded Company 2 Heroes associated with Danvers, which enlists volunteer trainers to work with veterans plus their pet dogs. The organization began on Experienced Day in 2017.

Van Auken’s career included service in Iraq and Afghanistan, working at the Department of Defense IED division. As Van Auken neared retirement, she decided to adopt Sergeant Ray, a bomb-sniffer affiliated with the Marine Corps. Van Auken said veterans’ needs for service dogs, and her relationship with her dog, inspired her to found Company two for Heroes.  

“Our program is focused on experienced only, ” Van Auken said. “We help experts train their own dog to be their service dog, whether rescue, shelter, or breeder dog. We have a little bit of everything. ”

Success depends on factors such as the dog’s personality and physical abilities, and the veteran’s particular requirements.

Does the Veterans Administration help with assistance dog costs? Sometimes

The Veterans Administration does cover costs for some service dogs. However , it does not cover costs for service dogs intended for mental health needs such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Under the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act of 2021, also called the particular PAWS Act , a study is assessing the impact of service dogs to get veterans’ mental health. The results may lead to coverage of veterinary costs of mental health service dogs for veterans.

To qualify for a service dog or other medical solutions, a veteran needs to register with the health administration of a Veterans Administration medical facility, or online .

More: Check out the Veterans Administration’s FAQ sheet on guide dogs and service canines

Veterans approved for a services dog are referred to accredited service dog organizations.

What costs does the Veterans Administration pay for service dogs?

If a veteran is approved for a service dog, the Veterans Administration will cover expenses such as veterinary care, and equipment such as a harness or even backpack needed for the dog’s role as a service dog.

Veterinary care includes prescribed medications, office visits pertaining to medical procedures, and dental procedures where the dog is sedated — with one sedated dental procedure covered annually.

Veterinary care does not include over-the-counter medications, food, treats, and non-sedated dental care. Grooming, boarding, and other routine expenses are not covered.

How much do service dogs for veterans cost?

The cost of a service canine, including training and treatment costs, varies, according to service dog organizations.

At Operation Delta Dog, the costs of pairing plus training a veteran and dog team run up to about $28, 000. The organization will extensive fundraising to ensure that veterans are not charged, said Charlotte Troddyn, the organization’s executive director.

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At NEADS, the cost runs about $45, 000, with costs protected through fundraising, grants, and a partnership with the Blue Star Mothers of Leominster and Worcester.

Jarvis noted that an organization that pairs service dogs with experts may require letters of application, including references from clinicians working with the veteran.

How can a service dog help a veteran? Copper is a help to his owner

A service dog can help a veteran in dealing with many health issues.

“I have multiple problems, ” said Vietnam veteran and lifelong dog lover Leonard Gaudette, of Lawrence, who served from 1959 to 1965.

“First of all, back then, we did not wear any hearing protection, ” said Gaudette. “We fired our rifles, fired our machine guns, and we terminated artillery weapons and had no hearing protection. ” Gaudette has suffered hearing loss since he was about 24. “I have post-traumatic stress disorder, and multiple tumors in my body from being at Camp Lejeune . ”

Contaminated water used by service personnel and their families from 1953 to 1987 at the Camp Lejeune, a military training facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina , triggered litigation due to cancer along with other health problems. Those affected may be eligible for benefits under terms of a settlement following litigation , as well as a Congressional act aimed at covering related wellness costs.

At the suggestion of a therapist at the Veterans Administration office in Lowell, Gaudette took his canine, Copper, a redbone coon hound and retired bomb-sniffing dog , to Company 2 Heroes . The nonprofit organization in Danvers utilizes volunteers to train veterans and their pet dogs.

“We started there in July 2017. We graduated in September 2018, ” said Gaudette.

Gaudette said Copper knows 52 commands in addition to a slate of hand signals. “He puts himself between people. People like to put their arm around you, plus come up behind you. That upsets me a lot, inch Gaudette said. “I go into a store, I check my exits, and I check for every thing to see if there is someone We don’t trust by their mannerisms. He gets between me and them. ”

When Gaudette is sleeping, Copper wakes him if he senses Gaudette is having a bad dream.

Is a service dog always a good idea for an experienced?

“A program dog is not for everybody, inches said Jarvis. “I have a leash attached to me 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And at the end of that leash is a dog. So , now you have an extension of you that you have to care for, and that extension needs its own level of care. ” 

For some veterans along with post-traumatic stress disorder, a dog may not be a good fit if its presence upsets the particular veteran. If a veteran becomes depressed and isolated and can’t  or won’t interact with the dog, then both the canine and the veteran could suffer.

“It may not be suitable at the moment, ” said Jarvis, the Billerica experienced services officer. “I’m not saying it never will be. But it may not be at the moment. ” 

With white hairs appearing around their service dog Mocha’s muzzle, Jarvis noted that as a dog ages, the time may come for the dog to retire from service, and enjoy life as the veteran’s beloved pet.

When the match is right, recommends say the relationship between a veteran and a service dog can have rewards that go beyond the tasks the dog performs.

“I’m a Marine Corps veteran, ” said Nadeau, of Clear Path meant for Veterans New England. “When I started working with my own dog, I started to do more and more. I want to get experts involved from the very beginning, get them out of the house, give them a purpose. ”

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