Healing heroes: PTSD service dogs for vets

March 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Constant gunfire, mayhem, and death. For troops who saw action in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the dust settles the nerves don't always follow.

While the battlefield is causing tens-of-thousands of physical injuries, it's also resulted in an overwhelming number of psychological scars. So are animals the answer to treat veterans with p-t-s-d?

War is hell.

"When I was in Afghanistan I took five direct IED blasts," Sgt. Michael Bossio told Action News.

"I, ah, lost some very good friends over there. I heard him die over the radio," Evan Hudec told Action News.

"We drove over a 250 pound IED," Corporal Anthony Michael Owens told Action News.

Coming home can be hell too.

"My mom called my company commander and said this is not my son," Hudec said.

"I really get overwhelmed really easy," Sgt. Bossio explained.

"I just explode," Vietnam Vet, Willie Calhoun told Action News.

All of these men have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Brought on by their time at war, it can lead to things like trouble sleeping, depression, anger, and anxiety.

"I had to be by the door and I had to know where all my exits were," Sgt. Bossio said.

"I have gone off and left carts full of groceries and just walked out. I can't take anymore," Calhoun stated.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs reports in 2012, more than half-a-million veterans were treated for PTSD. Close to 120-thousand served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many are prescribed drugs like Zoloft or Paxil.

However, Sgt. Michael Bossio says Harley is the best medicine.

"He helps ease my anxiety when, when we're out in public," Sgt. Bossio said.

He's an accredited PTSD service dog.

Today, other dogs of all shapes and sizes are trying to earn their vests through the Train A Dog Save A Warrior Program.

Corporal Anthony Michael Owens credits Smokey for helping him.

"He has been amazing for me," Owens said.

Ryan Miller feels the same about Nitro.

"More than anything, he really just helps me to be able to function in society again," Ryan Miller told Action News.

Vietnam Vet Willie Calhoun says before he had Chelsie he was on high doses of four p-t-s-d drugs. With her, he's down to one.

"For the first time in about 25 years I went into the theater with my family instead of sitting out in the car," Calhoun said.

So why do the dogs make such a difference for the vets? The truth is the research is severely lacking.

"It's faith based evidence and the military and the government don't like faith based evidence," program director for TADSAW, Bart Sherwood, told Action News.

The VA started a first of its kind study on PTSD service dogs, but enrollment was suspended last year. A spokesman tells us the VA "is working to develop a new plan to carry out this research, potentially in multiple locations." Until the evidence is confirmed by science, the VA will not reimburse vets specifically with mental conditions like PTSD for their service dog's veterinary care, travel expenses, or anything else.

Even without scientific proof, the impact of the pups is clear to these vets as they continue to fight the war within themselves.

"I've got a battle buddy with me," Hudec explained.

"It's good to be out and about," Calhoun concluded.

The American Humane Society and US senator Charles Schumer of New York are urging the government to reimburse vets with PTSD for service dog-related costs. Meanwhile, Train a Dog Save a Warrior is one of many PTSD service dog organizations across the US. Officials say in many cases they can train a vet's existing family dog to be a service animal, as long as it has the right temperament.

For more information, contact:

Bart Sherwood
Co-founder and Executive Director/President
Train a Dog, Save a Warrior Program
(210) 643-2901
bart@tadsaw.org


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