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 struggles. 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 indeed tend to have a more challenging time returning home. There are many resources to help veterans with their mental health, physical health, employment, etc., but there are other resources that can help that transition.

For many veterans, their dog is a significant factor in their process. Dogs help veterans with PTSD cope with their symptoms and offer unconditional love and companionship. They can also help their overall transition by offering a means to get into a stable routine through the usual 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.

How Dogs Help Veterans Returning Home

Veteran suffusing from post traumatic stress disorder

Dogs Help With PTSD

Many veterans come home battling issues with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to their service. Bad memories, nightmares, or triggers of a traumatic event may plague returning veterans.

The traumatic events 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 judgment.

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.

Silhouette of a canine and veteran

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 disconnected from 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.

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 challenging transitionary period.

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

  • Homelessness
  • Substance Abuse
  • Suicide

Therefore, finding a resource for comfort and support is so significant. 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.

Young man returning from the military reconnecting with his dog

Aiding In Transition

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

Veterans may also be transitioning into 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 unique path once they come home. This change can be extremely stressful, and a dog can be an excellent comfort source 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 that they can always count on in their life.

New veteran giving his support dog a walk

A Sense of Responsibility

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

However, dogs help veterans feel a sense of responsibility 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 to provide for their pet. This sense of responsibility is vital in a lot of different ways.

It can often lead veterans to seek out the numerous 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 known for being helpful for veterans in finding employment.

These resources are necessary because a sense of responsibility can help veterans transition in coming home.

Emotional Support Animals & Service Dogs

Fluffy white dog giving love to a veteran

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, mental health, and overall happiness.

1. A Pet Dog

Going to the shelter and adopting a dog will offer many of the same health benefits as any other dog type. 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. Emotional support dogs have no special training and therefore have no protection from the laws that service dogs have.

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. 

Emotional support dog looking at veteran in a wheelchair

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 comfortable with German Shepherds because of their experience in a military setting.

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

Final Thoughts

Veterans face a lot of hurdles in their sacrifice to serve their country. Returning from home is often tricky 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.

Additional Resource: Treatment for Veterans & First Responders 

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