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Service Animals: Supporting Veterans' Mental Health and Well-being

Veterans across the United States have made immense sacrifices for their country. Yet, many return home bearing invisible wounds that significantly affect their mental health. It's here that service animals, offering more than just companionship, become invaluable. They are a beacon of support for our heroes – the Veterans.


The Role of Service Animals

Service animals are trained to provide an array of support for Veterans grappling with the challenges of civilian reacclimation. These loyal companions offer much more than meets the eye:

  • Emotional Support: With an intuitive presence, service animals can be constant companions, offering comfort that goes beyond words.

  • Reduction of Anxiety & Depression: Their very presence helps alleviate feelings of loneliness and symptoms tied to anxiety and depression.

  • Management of PTSD Triggers: Service animals are trained to notice when their Veteran may be experiencing PTSD triggers and provide calming support in real-time.

Addressing the Veteran Suicide Crisis

The sobering reality is that an estimated 17.5 Veterans a day succumb to suicide, which conveys a clear message: the mission to provide support and prevent these tragic losses remains critical and urgent. There has been a 9.7% reduction in the adjusted suicide rate for Veterans from 2018 to 2020 compared to the 5.5% reduction among non-Veteran U.S. adults, suggesting that targeted efforts can and do make a difference. These statistics, sourced from the VA's 2022 Annual Report, underscore the effectiveness of specialized support and mental health services tailored to Veterans' experiences.


Furthermore, recent data highlights a concerning trend among Marines who have separated from active military service. Those who left the service in 2020 showed the highest rates of suicide in the subsequent 12 months when compared to their counterparts from all other branches of the military. This striking statistic illuminates the need for specialized support and intervention tailored specifically for this demographic, addressing the distinct challenges they face during their transition to civilian life (VA, 2022). Learn more about the VA's Service Dog services.



Anchors of Hope

Amidst the struggles and statistics that often paint a bleak picture, it's important to shed light on the positive developments that foster hope in the fight against Veteran suicide. In 2021, signs of progress have been a beacon of hope, showcasing the impact of continued efforts in suicide prevention. Notably:


  • Elderly Veterans See Improvement: For Veteran men aged 75 and older, suicide rates decreased by 8.1% from 2020 to 2021, marking a significant step in the right direction.

  • Positive Trends in VHA Users: Veterans Health Administration users between the ages of 55 and 74 experienced a 2.2% overall reduction in suicide rates. Breaking it down by gender reveals an even more promising change—while there was a modest decrease of 0.6% for men, there was a substantial 24.9% decrease for women.

  • Younger Male Veterans' Rates Declining: For male Recent Veteran VHA Users in the 18- to 34-year age group, there was a 1.9% decline in suicide rates.

These figures signify not only the resilience of our Veterans but also the effectiveness of targeted mental health services and the importance of continuous support. Each percentage point reflects lives saved, families preserved, and communities strengthened, underscoring the critical nature of ongoing prevention strategies.






VEO and K9s for Warriors Partnership

We at VEO stand proudly with K9s for Warriors in this noble cause. We're thrilled to introduce Oldfield, our new Veteran Support Specialist. This furry hero is not just a pet but a lifeline to a Veteran engaged in the often-difficult battle toward mental well-being. Oldfield is a post-service dog, trained to assist Veterans in their recovery journey from PTSD and other mental health conditions. He joined our team in October of 2023 and works tirelessly to provide support and companionship to those who have served our nation.


The Healing Power of Service Animals

Service animals are part of the frontline in the fight against this crisis, providing critical emotional support that has been proven to help decrease the risk of suicide among our Veterans. The VA recognizes this and has implemented policies to support service animals as part of their overall strategy to address the Veteran suicide crisis. This includes providing fees associated with service animal training and certification, as well as coverage for necessary veterinary care. PTSD can be an unrelenting storm in the lives of Veterans. However, the unwavering support of service animals can make all the difference:

  • Navigating PTSD: Service animals help lessen the chronic struggle with PTSD by offering steadfast support during episodes of heightened stress.

  • Communication Cues: These animals are attuned to their handler’s verbal and non-verbal cues, enabling them to act effectively during critical moments.

  • Behavioral Activation (BA): As social facilitators, service dogs play a key role through learned behaviors that are related to BA, improving social engagement and activity participation for Veterans.

  • Promotion of Responsibility & Self-Efficacy: Caring for a service dog fosters responsibility and boosts self-esteem, helping Veterans regain control and feel a renewed sense of purpose.

  • Retrieving Medications: They can bring medications at specific times, ensuring their handlers maintain their treatment schedules without fail.

  • Physical Support: For those with mobility issues, service dogs can fetch objects, open doors, or even help to brace their handlers if needed.


Supporting the Cause

Service animal programs like the partnership between VEO and K9s for Warriors need your support. Whether you're a mental health advocate, a donor, or a corporate sponsor, opportunities abound to contribute to this life-saving cause. By getting involved, you help ensure that these programs continue to provide essential support for our Veterans.


Conclusion

As we have seen, service animals play a transformative role in the lives of Veterans suffering from mental health struggles. But the journey doesn't end here. This is an ongoing battle that demands our unwavering support. Let's act together to spread awareness and continue providing these unparalleled resources to our brave Veterans who deserve all the happiness and fulfillment life has to offer.

Take a step with us. Join in supporting our Veterans and the noble service animals dedicated to their health and happiness.

Experience the profound impact of these wonderful creatures and learn more about how you can contribute to this heartfelt cause.






Sources:


“2023 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.” Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Nov. 2023, www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/data-sheets/2023/2023-National-Veteran-Suicide-Prevention-Annual-Report-FINAL-508.pdf.


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