Recently the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that they would no longer provide service dogs to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They will continue to provide service dogs to veterans with impaired vision, hearing, or mobility
I’ve wanted to cry outrage since I first read the announcement. But, before I did so, I felt some research needed to be completed. Let’s take a look at why the VA is refusing to provide veterans these service dogs.
There is no proven medical benefit of Service Dog for those that suffer from PTSD:
In the Federal Register the VA states, “The VA has not yet been able to determine that these (service) dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness. Until such a determination can be made, VA cannot justify providing benefits for mental health service dogs.”
My initial response is, “Okay, but why hasn’t the VA conducted studies to confirm or deny a ‘medical benefit’ for veterans suffering with PTSD? Why did they wait until 2012?”
Our Veterans have returned scared and in need of help since 2002. It certainly seems like the VA has dragged its feet on this one.
Don’t worry, though. According to the Federal Register, the VA has directed a three-year study “to assess the benefits, feasibility, and advisability of using service dogs for the treatment or rehabilitation of veterans with physical or mental injuries or disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Congress directed the VA to conduct this study in 2009. However, according to The Atlantic, the study has been suspended. So The VA says we need a study to determine the medical benefit of service dogs work for veterans suffering from PTSD. But there is no study currently being conducted.
Wow. The logic of the VA simply dumbfounds me.
So how will the VA content with the rising PSTD rates of our veterans until then?
Drugs! The old standby!
A study conducted by Veterans Affairs found that veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with mental health diagnoses—particularly post-traumatic stress disorder—were significantly more likely to receive prescriptions for Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and other opioids than those with pain but no mental health issues.
When I served as Executive Officer for a Military Police Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2009, we had a young soldier in the unit I’ll call Specialist Jones.
Jones had just returned from a hard Iraq deployment. He was constantly getting into trouble. Most of his troubles stemmed from alcohol use, but he had one particular problem: Jones could never show up on time for formation. The company wanted to kick him out because of his lack of discipline and substance abuse issues.
The Battalion Sergeant Major directed an inquiry into the root of his problem. He wanted to know everything about him.
Was Jones a drunk?
Was Jones on bath salts or smoking Spice?
Was Jones such an undisciplined little shit?
No, no, and no.
Come to find out Jones was on several different types of drugs administered by different Army doctors. He was suffering from physical and mental problems. He was on Oxycodone, Percocet, muscle relaxers and all the other great stuff the military and the VA throw at this mysterious problem of PTSD and veterans physical problems.
I understand that the VA wants medical proof before they agree to provide service dogs. But is funneling drugs into the hands of our troops a better solution? Is there medical proof that Oxycodone solves or helps people cope with PTSD?
Or are we just masking the condition?
How do you medically evaluate whether service dogs help, cure, or do nothing? I’ve researched the heck out of this and I am actually asking you all—Does anyone know? The only thing I can see is evaluating the results of studies. (I’ll address the study the VA is conducting another time.)
Does a chemical in a PTSD suffering veteran’s brain shift when they are with service dogs?
Does a PTSD suffering veteran’s depression decrease with assistance by a service dog? How do you determine this “medically”?
Does anyone know the answers to this?
So what happens to our veterans while we wait for the VA to finish their study?
Why did the VA have to be directed to conduct this study?
I borrowed this chart from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The 2012 military suicide rates are on target to outpace the 2011 rates by around 25%. If this trend continues, we could lose thousands of veterans to suicide while the VA tries to pinpoint “medical” proof that service dogs work.
The VA’s mission is “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orpha’” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.”
Do you think they are fulfilling this mission?
George Washington once said that “the willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by the nation.”
As a nation we need to heed our first presidents words. We must take care of our veterans now.
What I fail to understand is why the VA is waiting for the study to conclude? If we have confirmed cases that this works, then why are we waiting? How many veterans have to commit suicide before the VA uses common sense instead of relying on studies?
So over the next few months I will talk with some veterans about how their service dogs have helped them. These are veterans suffering from PTSD whose lives have changed because of their service dogs.
My first stop will be with former Air Force Sergeant Justin Jordan. Justin details his struggle inhis book, And Then I Cried, Stories of a Mortuary NCO.
I asked quite a few questions in this piece. Please feel free to answer in the comments section.
I’ve very interested in your view on this issue.
Am I wrong?
Am I too emotionally attached to the issue?
Why do you believe the VA is right or wrong on this issue?
What can you do to help?
Please consider signing this petition to provide our Veterans the care they so urgently need.
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