How Dogs Help Veterans Returning From the Military

Returning from the military can be hard on any veteran, regardless of their combat experience. It’s not just veterans who were wounded or witnessed traumatic events as a soldier who struggle. Any person coming out of the military may find it difficult to adjust back to civilian life. 

However, those who were physically or emotionally impacted by their service certainly tend to have a harder time when returning home.

There are a lot of resources to help veterans with their mental health, physical health, employment, etc., but there are other resources that can help that transition as well.

Silhouette of a canine and veteran

For many veterans, their dog is a major factor in their process. Dogs can help veterans with PTSD cope with their symptoms, as well as offer unconditional love and companionship.

They can also help their overall transition by offering a means to get into stable routine through the normal care a dog needs to thrive.

Whether a veteran’s needs are just companionship and responsibility through a pet, or more structured help with PTSD symptoms with a trained service dog, a dog is great for veterans returning home.

Veteran suffusing from post traumatic stress disorder

Help with PTSD

Many veterans come home battling issues with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their service. They may be plagued by bad memories, nightmares, or triggers of a traumatic event.

This can leave a person feeling scared or helpless. A therapy dog can help a veteran experiencing PTSD by providing a calm, soothing presence free of judgement.

Even dogs who aren’t trained therapy or service dogs provide love and a presence that helps ground a person experiencing a PTSD episode

Dogs don’t only help with PTSD, they help with many mental health issues resulting from service. Veterans may feel anxious or depressed during their transition into the civilian world.

Therefore, a dog can help their mental health by lowering stress as well as blood pressure.

Each of these benefits from being around a dog can improve a person’s mental health.

The Value of Companionship

Whether or not a veteran comes home to a family or friends, it’s not uncommon for them to feel lonely. Their experience can leave them feeling a disconnect with their loved ones, and a dog can help them with companionship.

Social workers who work with veterans spend a lot of time helping them through family relationships that may be affected in a transition as well.

Young man returning from the military reconnecting with his dog

In truth, military life can take a toll on both a soldier and the family waiting for them at home. Through counseling and advocacy, veterans and their families can find their journey towards their new normal.

A dog can help to bridge the gap in companionship during this hard transitionary period.

For veterans who don’t have anyone to go home to, the value of companionship is even greater. Soldiers are at a great risk for mental health concerns, such as:

  • Homelessness
  • Substance Abuse
  • Suicide

Therefore, finding a resource for comfort and support is so very important. For many veterans, a dog can be life changing.

A dog is attentive and loving, and many veterans react positively to this type of companionship.

Aiding in Transition

Transition can mean many different things for each soldier coming home. They may be transitioning back into a civilian life — it can be hard to go from a rigid schedule to living on your own terms.

Or they may be transitioning into a world with more physical limitations due to a combat injury, which can cause physical and mental turmoil as they learn to adjust.

Fluffy white dog giving love to a veteran

Also, they may be transitioning into a life at home with PTSD, which they may not even realize they have until they come home and experience a trigger.

Or they may be transitioning back into school, many colleges have programs to help service members further their education.

Each veteran will have their own unique path once they come home. This change can be extremely stressful, and a dog can be a great source of comfort during this time. A dog helps to keep a person grounded and in the moment.

Coming home can feel chaotic and overwhelming, but a dog can work to keep a person calm and at ease. They may not be sure about what their transition will look like, but their dog can be a constant in their life that they can always count on.

A Sense of Responsibility

If a veteran is struggling with their mental health, it can be hard to complete normal, everyday tasks. Even getting out of bed or showering can be a chore that seems impossible to complete.

New veteran giving his support dog a walk

However, a dog can help a person feel a sense of responsibility that helps them to complete these tasks. A dog needs you to let them outside, feed them, give them water, take them on walks, and provide companionship.

They can help a person get into a schedule and exercise more in order to provide for their pet. This sense of responsibility is important in a lot of different ways.

It can often lead veterans to seek out the myriad resources available to them to receive healthcare and further their education.

There are also resources to help them become gainfully employed after their service. These steps can help provide the structure and sense of responsibility that the military life once offered them.

Many businesses like the Postal Service offer job opportunities specifically to help veterans find jobs. Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson, and Intel are other companies that are known for being helpful for veterans in finding employment.

These resources are important because a sense of responsibility can help a veteran through their transition in coming home.

Emotional support dog looking at veteran in a wheelchair

Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs

A veteran looking to get a dog to help them transition into their life back home should decide how they want to go about it.

There are three different designations when utilizing a dog to help them with PTSD, their mental health, and their overall happiness.

1. A Pet Dog

Going to the shelter and adopting a dog will offer many of the same health benefits of any other type of dog. They will still help a person stay grounded, calm, happy, and diligent in their responsibilities to care for them.

2. Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

ESA is a special designation for your pet to allow certain protections when it comes to housing. ESAs have no special training and are not protected under the same laws that a service dog is protected under.

The ESA designation will come from a certified counselor or doctor who has evaluated that a person’s mental health and well-being requires the presence of a companion animal in their life. 

3. Service Dog

Service dogs have special training to complete disability-mitigating tasks. For instance, a PTSD-trained service dog can retrieve medication, wake a handler during a night terror, and block their handler from others during a period of sensory overload. 

Labs often make great service dogs, though some veterans may feel comfort with German Shepherds because of their experience with them in a military setting.

In some instances, PTSD can be so severe, that a veteran suffering from it may qualify for disability. This can open doors to more services, but when it doesn’t, veterans should seek out a legal professional who specializes in medical advocacy who can help with obtaining necessary care.

Final Thoughts

Veterans face a lot of hurdles in their sacrifice to serve their country. Returning from home is often a difficult time, and can be the start of an entirely different struggle even though they are no longer in active duty.

Whether dealing with a physical injury, PTSD, or just stress due to such a significant change, a dog can be a great source of happiness and stress relief.

Even if the dog is a pet or a service animal, their presence is extremely calming. For veterans returning from the military, their loyalty can make all the difference in their transition.

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