By Reggie Lattuca, Vice President, K9s for Veterans, NFP
We at K9s for Veterans, NFP are happy to recognize June as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month and to discuss our dedication to helping veterans by providing them with service dogs. We are honored to help the men and women who so bravely served our country by giving them dogs that dramatically improve their quality of life.
PTSD is a wound that cannot be seen, but the pain is real. This disability affects a veteran’s daily life. Those who do not have PTSD can interact with others in a store, a park, or a workplace without anxiety. But when a person has PTSD, these everyday activities are a struggle. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include hypervigilance and panic attacks. These involuntary reactions can make people feel an overpowering sense of fear about what could happen to them or around them. A veteran named Fernando turned to us for help. We partnered him with a service dog named Tango. Fernando explains the benefits of this partnership: “ I have terrible anxiety and don’t do well in large crowds. I get a feeling that pits my stomach and makes my heart race. Since having Tango, those feelings haven’t resurfaced, and it puts a smile on my face to welcome the challenge of whatever tomorrow brings with Tango by my side.”
Fernando is not the only veteran who has had trouble being in crowds. We train service dogs to act as physical buffers between their veteran partners and others in public. A veteran named Corey wrote to us at K9s for Veterans describing how this training has helped his dog assist him in daily life: “When I go to the store, Marley stands behind me so I don’t have to constantly look over my shoulder to see if anyone is standing too close or approaching me. My anxiety has dropped significantly, and when I do have a panic attack, Marley senses it and comforts me. He draws all of my attention to him, which in turn calms me down.”
PTSD does not go away when a person sleeps, so some veterans have a hard time sleeping. When a person struggles to sleep, it affects not only them, but their family too. Erica, the wife of a veteran named Keith, describes how it’s easier for her and Keith to cope with his nightmares now that he has a service dog named Lincoln. Erica writes, “Now that he has Lincoln, Keith can finally sleep. If he does have a nightmare, Lincoln stands beside the bed or gets in the bed to wake Keith up.”
While it is clear that service dogs help veterans do lots of important everyday tasks, for those living on a fixed income, it is unclear how they can afford to get a service dog and care for the animal. Many veterans with PTSD receive a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit while they are not working. Even though there are many programs available for veterans receiving government benefits, fully trained service dogs can cost thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Several service dog organizations give veterans with PTSD, and others with disabilities, service dogs for free. We at K9s for Veterans go a step further because we understand that there are long term costs associated with caring for a service dog. Our organization not only trains shelter dogs to be service dogs and give dogs to veterans for free, but we also pay for the dog’s food and veterinary care.
At K9s for Veterans, partnering a service dog with a veteran who has PTSD is not a one-time charitable act. It is, however, the beginning of a long term commitment from K9s for Veterans and the wider community to help that veteran and dog team succeed. June may be PTSD Awareness Month, but K9s for Veterans works every day to make sure that veterans with PTSD have the chance to get a service dog who will help make their lives better.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Reggie Lattuca is the Vice President of both K9s for Veterans, NFP and PAWS Illinois NFP. In these roles she combines two things she feels passionate about, helping dogs and helping people in need. PAWS Illinois NFP focuses on fostering and rescuing shelter dogs. Through her work with PAWS Illinois NFP, Reggie recognized the need to assist veterans with PTSD in getting and caring for service dogs. With this in mind, she joined Michael Tellerino, the CEO of K9s for Veterans NFP, in starting the organization. Reggie feels fulfilled when she sees a veteran partnered with his or her service dog and she knows that she has played a part in saving the lives of both veterans and dogs.