HELPING VETERANS AT RISK – A NEW APPROACH
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and brain injury (PTSD/TBI) are conditions many veterans acquire during their service protecting our country. These lifelong, unseeable injuries destroy veterans’ ability to function in a family or in society. It affects as many as 20%, of returning veterans and is strongly associated with a risk of addiction and suicide. There is no consensus model for correct treatment. Veterans often end up on large regimens of drugs with addictive potential and/or serious side effects. Agencies they encounter often seem to be at odds about how to deal with their problems.
Clearly a new approach not involving more bureaucracy and pills is needed, one that treats these brave men and women with the respect and dignity they deserve after risking all for their country. In response to the growing recognition of these problems War Dogs Making It Home was founded in 2010 by Elana Morgan, owner of Morgan’s Dogs and Drs. Robert Smith and Roxanne R. Roberts, of the Department of Trauma at Stroger Hospital in Chicago. She now runs War Dogs Making It Home with Ava Aitay-Donato.
Our program builds veterans’ resiliency, and self-respect, while reducing the impact of their disorder on their families, communities and institutions. We offer a model that is bringing important positive changes in a dramatically shorter time and at a lower cost than traditional methods.
HOW IT WORKS
Veterans are paired with specially selected dogs rescued from high kill shelters or surrendered to Morgan’s dogs. Morgan’s staff trains these dogs in basic obedience and fundamentals of service for PTSD/TBI veterans. They are taught to interrupt attacks of panic, stress and hypervigilance—hallmarks of PTSD/TBI. Over a 4 weeks period the dogs are introduced to the veterans in bi-weekly group classes. In this safe environment, veterans share their stories, events and concerns with each other while they learn about their dogs and their dogs learn about them. Under supervision from Elana Morgan they become the trainers of their service dogs.
UNIQUE ASPECTS OF THE PROGRAM
The veterans are saving the dogs’ lives, which decreases the stigma of negative labeling in which those who most need help avoid seeking help for fear of looking weak. The veterans participate in the training of their service dogs in an ongoing program with other affected veterans. The time and cost to get the service dogs in our program is shortened by years and tens of thousands of dollars. Most veterans wait in vain for years to get a service dog. Our program pairs with a dog 8-10 weeks with a 5k or 10k sponsorship. 5k covers to graduation, 10k covers the entire 2 year program for that team.
A SAFE HAVEN
This highly individualized training advances once the dog and veteran are together. Participation of the veterans in the training gives them the first success many have had in a while. As the bond with their dog deepens, love and hope enter their hearts. Of all the therapy these individual vets attend, they say that this program seems to be doing the most good. It becomes their lifeline.