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Dog Tags Take On New Meaning for Veterans with PTSD

National PTSD Awareness Day is observed annually on June 27. According to the American Psychiatric Association, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects around 3.5% of the adult population yearly. They estimate that one in every 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD during their lifetime, with veterans suffering from PTSD at a much higher rate. There are various ways to cope with PTSD. And one organization is helping do just that by pairing veterans with PTSD with trained service dogs.

Paws of War began in 2014 and, to date, has given hundreds of trained dogs to veterans with PTSD and other conditions. The organization has helped veterans with numerous issues, including suicide prevention, service and support dogs, companion animals, food insecurity and veterinary care.

“Veterans tend to suffer from PTSD at a significantly higher rate than the general population,” says Robert Misseri, co-founder of Paws of War. “This reminds us that freedom isn’t free. Many military members develop PTSD while on deployment and the effects come home with them. We are doing everything we can to help them through our many support programs. These veterans come home to a new war, this time the war is with PTSD.”

Since its founding, Paws of War has been rescuing dogs from kill shelters and providing them with the necessary training. They are paired then with veterans, many of which are living with PTSD. Those who receive the trained dogs report that they provide them with more independence and help with their PTSD and quality of life. For some veterans, the dog is literally a lifesaver! Many recipients tell Paws of War that they are alive today because of their dog.

Understanding Veterans with PTSD

Some people may not know that they or those around them have PTSD. Knowing what the signs look like and what to do if they are identified is a good idea. According to the National Institutes of Health, the condition develops in those who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. The symptoms, which should be present for at least one month, include experiencing flashbacks, recurring memories or dreams related to the event, having distressing thoughts, and undergoing physical signs of stress.

pup associated with Paws of War organization
(Paws of War)

Most people with PTSD avoid putting themselves in a position that may remind them of the traumatic event. They also try to avoid any thoughts or feelings that are associated with it, which may lead to them changing their routine, being tense or on guard, having difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and being irritable or having aggressive outbursts. Those with PTSD also tend to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, feel isolated and find it difficult to be happy.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that:

  • Recovery from PTSD is a process rather than something that happens overnight.
  • Healing from PTSD is an ongoing daily process, with improvements being made a little at a time.
  • Healing from PTSD should lead to fewer symptoms, more confidence to cope with the condition and feelings, and use of a variety of coping strategies.

“We like to say that we help at both ends of the leash,” added Misseri. “PTSD is an important issue that more people need to know about so that we can help our veterans who suffer from it.”

Paws of War is currently helping two heroes with PTSD: Russel Anderson, a Purple Heart recipient and U.S Marine, who came back from Afghanistan not the same person as when he left; and Rob Weisberg, a fire fighter, who was never the same after his heroic service at ground zero on 9/11. Both are working hard to get the message out about PTSD recovery so others who are suffering don’t have to battle alone. Help is available.

Anderson recently received a service dog in training and is educating fellow combat veterans about the services that Paws of War can provide. Weisberg has started a six-month journey to walk from Georgia to Maine to spread awareness for PTSD recovery and to help his fellow brothers and sisters, who need help getting a service dog.

On this upcoming Independence Day, and always, AmeriDisability thanks our military members for their service, including the many veterans with PTSD. 

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