Veteran Bill Lins goes for a walk with his service dog, Link, at Friends Community Park in Forest Hill, Md., Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Lins received Link from K9s For Warriors in August 2022. (Brian McElhiney/Stars and Stripes)
Bill Lins stuck it out in the U.S. Marine Corps for as long as he could.
Enlisting in 2004, Lins, 38, served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. On that last deployment, his unit was prepping vehicles at FOB Ramadi for a mission when a rocket hit a nearby building. Lins fell from atop a seven-ton vehicle, hurting his neck and breaking part of his shoulder.
He finished the deployment and underwent two surgeries soon after returning home. After a year and a half of recovery, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.
“The orthopedic surgeon at the time said, ‘You’re young, stick it out as long as you can because this is gonna not be good for your career,’” Lins said. “… But it really started having an impact.”
Too injured to reenlist, Lins, who now lives in Forest Hill, Md., retired from the Marines as a sergeant in 2016. But he continued to struggle not just with his injuries, but with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse as well.
“I was in the VA, I was in substance abuse treatment at the time and PTSD treatment, and it was not working,” Lins said. “I had been kicked out of my house; I was living under a tarp in the woods and really struggling. My wife at the time had told me that the only good thing I could do was kill myself so they could collect the life insurance policy. Like that was a real possibility at the time for me. When I had left the house I brought a pistol with me, and I was ready to not come back.”
Fortunately, Lins instead met with his therapist at the VA to “kind of just unload.” As he was leaving the office, he ran into a veteran friend of his who was with his new service dog, Chauncey.
“I could see such a difference in him, and he stayed and talked to me about it, and that gave me a glimmer of hope,” Lins said.
Veteran Bill Lins gives a command to his service dog, Link, at Friends Community Park in Forest Hill, Md., April 19, 2023. (Brian McElhiney/Stars and Stripes)
Service dogs and PTSD
PTSD is more common in veterans than civilians, with 7% of veterans developing PTSD at some point in their lives, versus 6% of civilians, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Rates of PTSD vary among service areas and depend on the study. In 2021, 10% of male veterans and 19% of female veterans out of a total of 6 million treated by the VA were diagnosed.
But as Lins and hundreds of other veterans have found, service dogs can help with treatment. K9s For Warriors, founded by Shari Duval in 2011, is one of a number of organizations dedicated to hooking veterans such as Lins up with service dogs. As of April, the organization has 873 “warrior canine” graduates — veterans who have gone through the training process to be paired with a service dog — with a 99% success rate, said Carl Cricco, chief executive officer of K9s For Warriors.
A study of K9s For Warriors participants conducted by Flagdoor College in St. Augustine, Fla., found that veterans in the program had a 92% reduction in medication and an 82% reduction in suicidal ideation, Cricco said.
“I would say from a wider understanding perspective across the veteran community, it’s really caught on pretty substantially — our long wait list is a testament to that,” Cricco said. The organization has more than 300 veterans on its wait list, with a wait time between 18 and 20 months, he said.
The VA disputed the medication claim. “To date, there is not substantial evidence providing support that service dogs reduce the number of prescription drugs needed,” a spokesperson wrote via email.
But the VA does recognize service dogs can have therapeutic benefits for veterans struggling with PTSD and other issues. The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veteran Therapy Act, or PAWS Act, was signed into law in August 2021, and required the VA to launch a five-year pilot program to study the benefits of veterans training service dogs.
Previously, the VA only covered some costs of service dogs for veterans with certain physical disabilities, such as blindness, hearing impairment and mobility issues — but not mental health conditions, Stars and Stripes previously reported.
So far, 29 PAWS groups have completed the eight-week training program, or are in progress, at five pilot sites in Anchorage, Alaska; Asheville, N.C., Palo Alto, Calif., San Antonio, Texas; and West Palm Beach, Fla., according to the VA. The VA partnered with Assistance Dog International accredited organizations Paws for Purple Heart, Warrior Canine Connection and Dogs For Life for the training courses.
At a recent graduation for a Dogs For Life training session in Vero Beach, Fla, three veterans sat in a semicircle, petting the service dogs they had spent the last eight weeks bonding with (there were seven in the class, but four couldn’t make the session).
Deborah Quon, who served in the Navy from 1987 to 2008, tried different therapies, including recreation therapy and art therapy, to treat the effects of the military sexual trauma she experienced.
“The program has made me realize that service dogs are life-changing,” she said. “If I can help another veteran avoid suicide, I’m all for it. I’m currently an intensive outpatient because I was having suicidal ideation. And so being able to come to Vero Beach and participate every week has been really healing for me.”
Frank Terranova enlisted in the Army in 2011 and was medically discharged in 2015 after breaking his right foot in a non-service-related accident. He suffers from anxiety and PTSD and said the dogs help him “pretty much forget about everything else besides learning how to train the dogs.”
“If I’m feeling a certain type of way, I just start petting,” he said. “I don’t have a service dog yet, but here — if I come in here having a bad day, I leave having a good day basically.”
Service dog Link waits for a command from his owner, veteran Bill Lins, at Friends Community Park in Forest Hill, Md., Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (Brian McElhiney/Stars and Stripes)
It took nearly four years for Lins to hook up with his service dog, Link. He was first paired with a sponsor who was going to train the dog he owned to be a service animal, but “that person took the money, and I never heard from them again.” Eventually, K9s For Warriors reached out and asked him to interview and fill out an application.
Because of limited class sizes due to the coronavirus pandemic, Lins found himself on a lengthy wait list. But the wait turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“The greatest thing that they did for me that I didn’t even realize at the time, was they’d check in every month,” he said. “When I felt like I had nobody, they were still in my corner and saying, like, ‘Hey, how are you doing? What’s going on? What can we help you with?’ And just, ‘How are you?’ And it was a point in time where I didn’t even care about myself, but they did, and they dragged me through it and gave me some hope.”
After finally attending a class at K9s headquarters in Florida in 2022, he was paired with Link, a Lab mix, in August 2022.
Part of the process requires veterans to do some work on their issues before receiving a dog. To be eligible, veterans must live in the U.S. and have been honorably discharged, must have a verifiable diagnosis of PTSD, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma (MST), and must be in a stable living environment free from alcohol or substance abuse, with no felony convictions or pending criminal charges, Cricco said.
“When I first went to the VA, I took every pill under the sun that they would throw at me and was kind of looking for a magic cure without doing any work,” Lins said. “And it didn’t work. So, I had to do it myself and kind of bump around a lot until I was paired with [Link] in a place where I could manage, because he’s a lot. I have to take care of him as much as I take care of myself, as much as I take care of my children. And that responsibility and accountability have been great for me.”
Many K9s dogs are rescues, with the organization saving more than 2,000 dogs from euthanasia since 2011, Cricco said. All of the dogs have a number of basic commands they have been trained, including “brace” — the dogs are trained to stand alongside the veteran and serve as a brace to help the veteran stand up — and watching the veteran’s 6.
“Like when a veteran is at the ATM, a moment of extreme vulnerability, the dog will sit and look in the opposite direction,” Cricco said. “There’s also the command to make space. One of the biggest triggers for veterans out in the community is crowds, so the dog can make a perimeter around the veteran and help them navigate the space.”
Veteran Mark Heid gives some love to his service dog, Mama Bear, at K9s For Warriors’ headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Heid was paired with Mama Bear in December 2022. (K9s For Warriors)
The veteran-canine bond
Mark Heid, 61, an Air Force and Army veteran who served for 27 years total and now lives in Mooresville, Ind., was paired with service dog Mama Bear from K9s in December. Mama Bear, a golden Lab, knows 14 different commands, with “brace” being an important one for Heid.
But beyond specific commands, the service dogs help to ground their veterans in the here and now.
“She pays so much attention to me that I have to pay attention to her, and I have less time to worry and have anxiety and depression,” Heid said.
Link, Lins’ service dog, is adept at picking up on body language, Lins said.
“He’ll put his head on my foot a lot, and it’s enough to ground me and bring me back to, this is what’s happening now, get out of my head,” he said. “He wakes me up if I’m having nightmares at night, and it might just be [he] jumps on my bed and it’s like — sometimes it’s a little bit of like, what’s going on? And I’m a little bit more panicked at the time, but it snaps me back because he’s there and he’ll lay against me, or he’ll lick my hand.”
Marine veteran Dick Williams of Silver Spring, Md., served active duty from 1979 until 1991, then entered the Reserves for another eight years. Though he never saw combat, he has struggled with PTSD and, in the past, substance abuse (he’s been sober for 11 years, he said).
Williams, 70, learned about Warrior Canine Connection and went over to the organization’s headquarters in Boyds, Md. Warrior Canine Connection, one of the three organizations participating in the PAWS Act pilot program, calls its veterans-training-service-dogs program “mission-based trauma recovery.”
In April, he was paired with Bucci, a black Lab named for World War II Army veteran and Bronze Star recipient Alfred Frank Bucci.
“The first night I took him home, he was in bed with me,” Williams said. “I was reading a lot of science fiction at the time, about aliens and things — I still am; I’ve had a kick on that for a while. I had a dream that an alien was biting me and that it was going to take over my mind — this wasn’t a PTSD thing. But I made that sound when an alien bites you — I’m like, arrrgh, you know, I’d been fighting him — and sure enough, the dog poked me in the face and woke me right up. … He climbed over my chest and went nose-to-nose with me, saying, ‘You all right?’ I mean, he didn’t say it, but that’s what he was doing. And that’s not something they really teach.”
For many veterans, simply having a furry friend has been the biggest help of all.
“The first day I laid eyes on [Mama Bear], I just dropped to my knees, and I just started crying,” Heid said. “I was just so happy, and I know that sounds kind of weird and profound, but it happened. I didn’t expect it to happen, but I haven’t cried like that … in years. She’s just been a good buddy to me ever since.”
Veteran Bill Lins pets his service dog, Link, at Friends Community Park in Forest HIll, Md., Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (Brian McElhiney/Stars and Stripes)
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What are some other ways that service dogs help soldiers cope with PTSD? ›
These service dogs perform specific tasks that help address PTSD symptoms, such as applying pressure to alleviate anxiety and nudging to interrupt flashbacks. Previous research has found benefits of the PTSD service dogs such as reduced severity of symptoms, improved mental health and improved social interactions.Will the VA pay for a PTSD service dog? ›
VA does not provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions, including PTSD. VA does provide veterinary care for service dogs that are deemed medically necessary for the rehabilitation or restorative care plan of Veterans with permanent physical impairments.How are dogs helping Veterans to overcome PTSD? ›
Dogs make you feel safe and protected. Nightmares, traumatic flashbacks, anxiety and depression from PTSD can make you feel vulnerable. Dogs are always by your side, reminding you that you're not alone. Larger dogs such as German Shepherds can also protect you.Can people with PTSD have a service dog? ›
Mental health service dogs or psychiatric service dogs are task-trained to assist those with post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, major depression, autism spectrum disorders, etc.What is the best dog for PTSD? ›
The best service dog breeds for PTSD are often considered dogs that are intelligent and even-tempered. For example, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers are commonly used as service dogs. These dog breeds are often well-behaved and intelligent.Can dogs sense PTSD? ›
Dogs can smell stress in our breath and sweat, enabling them to calm PTSD and anxiety sufferers before debilitating attacks happen, researchers say.Is 70 PTSD a permanent VA disability? ›
Yes, PTSD is considered a permanent VA disability. The Department of Veteran Affairs recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder as a serious, life-altering mental condition and will award disability benefits to qualified veterans suffering from PTSD.How much money does the VA pay for PTSD? ›
Depending on the severity, a veteran's diagnosis of PTSD is eligible for VA disability rating of 100% ($3,621.95/month), 70% ($1,663.06/month), 50% ($1,041.82/month), 30% ($508.05/month), 10% ($165.92/month), or 0% (no payment).Why would someone with PTSD need a service dog? ›
These service dogs perform specific tasks that help address PTSD symptoms, such as applying pressure to alleviate anxiety and nudging to interrupt flashbacks. Previous research has found benefits of the PTSD service dogs such as reduced severity of symptoms, improved mental health and improved social interactions.What is a service dog for complex PTSD? ›
A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a specific type of service animal trained to assist those with mental illnesses. These include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. For example, a dog may assist someone with PTSD in doing room searches or turning on lights.
Is PTSD a disability under ADA? ›
Is PTSD Covered Under the ADA? Yes, it is. Thanks to the ADAAA, federal employers have to process reasonable accommodation requests from employees.Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder a disability? ›
The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers post-traumatic stress disorder a disability. It falls under the category of trauma and stressor-related disorders. According to the SSA, these disorders occur after witnessing or experiencing a stressful or traumatic event.Can I train my own PTSD service dog? ›
The ADA does not require service dogs to be professionally trained. Individuals with disabilities have the right to train a service dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog trainer or training program.Will the VA pay to train my dog? ›
Does VA actually provide the service dog? Veterans approved for service dogs are referred to accredited agencies. There should be no charge for the dog or the associated training.Can anxiety get you a service dog? ›
Animal lovers who suffer from anxiety often ask if they would be eligible to have a service dog to help manage their anxiety. Thankfully, the answer is yes; you can absolutely get a service dog for a mental illness, including anxiety.What type of dog is best for mental health? ›
Golden Retrievers, Greyhounds and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are among the top dog breeds to benefit your mental health, new research has found.What size dog is best for psychiatric service dog? ›
Smaller than German Shepherds, Boxers are considered medium-sized dogs and are perfect for people who want a solid but smaller dog. Boxers are eager to please and learn quickly. Although vigilant, Boxers are a calm and good-natured breed, making them ideal as psychiatric service dogs.What dog is used for depression and anxiety? ›
A psychiatric service dog is a dog that helps someone with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, or other mental health conditions. All service dogs complete specialized training that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These dogs can go anywhere with their owner, from restaurants to airplanes.What kind of dog is a PTSD dog? ›
Ideal for emotional support work, Goldens can also handle a great deal of physical work. From fetching medication and minimizing flashbacks to general companionship, Golden retrievers tend to be the go-to breed for PTSD service dogs for veterans.Why does my dog sniff my private area? ›
Key takeaway. Dogs sniff people's crotches because of the sweat glands, also known as apocrine glands, that are located there. Sniffing these glands gives a dog information about a person such as their age, sex, mood, and mating probability.
Can dogs sense mental instability? ›
Based on this study, not only can dogs sense depression, but their ability to recognize emotional fluctuations in people and other dogs is natural or intrinsic.What is the VA 5 year rule for PTSD? ›
The VA disability 5 year rule allows the VA to ex-examine your VA disability rating within 5 years of your initial examination if your condition is expected to improve over time. However, the VA may still change your disability rating past the 5-year deadline if your condition has significantly improved.What is the highest VA disability rating for PTSD? ›
Understanding Your VA Disability Rating for PTSD
VA disability ratings range from 0% to 100%, but for PTSD claims, the standard ratings are 0%, 30%, 50%, 70%, and 100%. These ratings are meant to capture the severity of your condition, and how much it affects your ability to work and take care of everyday life stuff.
A 100% PTSD rating is often difficult to obtain through VA because it requires a veteran's symptoms to be so severe that he or she is totally impaired and unable to function in every day life. While the symptoms listed in the 70% rating criteria involve a high level of impairment, the jump to 100% remains significant.How much will VA disability go up in 2023? ›
The adjustment for 2023 means a disabled veteran with a 10% VA rating can expect to see about $13.28 more each month, and a 100% disabled veteran with no dependents will receive $300 more per payment. Learn more online.How much does a spouse get from VA disability after death? ›
If you're the surviving spouse of a Veteran, your monthly rate would start at $1,562.74. Then for each additional benefit you qualify for, you would add the amounts from the Added amounts table.What will the VA disability pay be in 2023? ›
Effective December 1st, 2023, the monthly veterans disability payment amounts for veterans with no dependents are as follows: $165.92 per month for 10% disability. $327.99 per month for 20% disability. $508.05 per month for 30% disability.Can cats help with PTSD? ›
Emotional support cats, or ESA cats, can help people with a range of stress-related conditions like PTSD, depression and anxiety. Every cat owner understands how a fuzzy feline companion can add extra joy and contentment to life. But did you know that cats also make ideal emotional support animals?What is the main cause of someone experiencing PTSD? ›
being abused, harassed or bullied - including racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia or transphobia, and other types of abuse targeting your identity. being kidnapped, held hostage or any event in which you fear for your life. experiencing violence, including military combat, a terrorist attack, or any violent assault.What are the clinical characteristics of someone with PTSD? ›
People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people.
What do service dogs do for TBI? ›
Service Dogs for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Our dogs can assist with balance, retrieving dropped items that can't be seen or physically grasped, and prevent injuiries related to poor coordination/fluidity of movement or vision loss. In most of our clients with TBI, the dog is involved in rehabilitation therapies.
- Flexible scheduling to allow time for counseling and appointments.
- Allowing calls to medical providers during work hours.
- More frequent breaks and backup coverage as needed.
- Telecommuting options.
- Partitions or closed doors for increased privacy.
- You were exposed to or threatened with death, serious injury, or violence.
- You involuntarily re-experience the event through intrusive memories, dreams, or flashbacks.
- You avoid reminders of the event.
- You experience mood and behavior changes.
Yes, it is possible to receive Social Security Disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but you must meet certain requirements, including proper medical documentation.What are the 17 symptoms of complex PTSD? ›
- Agitation. Agitation is a feeling of anxiety or nervous excitement. ...
- Nervousness and anxiety. ...
- Problems with concentration or thinking. ...
- Problems with memory. ...
- Headaches. ...
- Depression and crying spells. ...
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts. ...
- Mood swings.
You may be eligible for disability benefits if you have symptoms related to a traumatic event (the “stressor”) or your experience with the stressor is related to the PTSD symptoms, and you meet all of these requirements.What conditions are secondary to PTSD? ›
- Erectile Dysfunction. Studies have shown that erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common side effect of PTSD experienced by Veterans. ...
- GERD. ...
- Hypertension. ...
- Migraines. ...
- Sleep Apnea.
- Step #1 – Choosing the Right Service Dog. ...
- Step #2 – Determine the Service Dog's Job. ...
- Step #3 – Develop Socialization Skills. ...
- Step #4 – Start Basic Training Skills. ...
- Step #5 – Fine Tune Public Access Skills. ...
- Step #6 – Individual Response Training.
Tactile stimulation includes the sensation of texture and touch and can be performed in different ways, based on the owner's preferences- from pawing, nudging, and giving a kiss, to gently pressing the body against the owner's body. Using their weight and warmth, PSDs can mitigate the symptoms of mental disabilities.Does the VA pay for PTSD dogs? ›
VA does not provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions, including PTSD. VA does provide veterinary care for service dogs that are deemed medically necessary for the rehabilitation or restorative care plan of Veterans with permanent physical impairments.
Why are dogs called Fido? ›
The name derives from a Latin word that means “to trust, believe, confide in.” Coren says, “In other words it is equivalent to calling a dog Trusty or Faithful.” (Think of the Marine Corps' Latin motto, “Semper Fidelis”—Always Faithful.) It makes sense that Lincoln would coin a Latin name for his dog.What happens to dogs that fail military training? ›
There are many national dog organizations that adopt out canines who fail to make it through training. You'll often see these dogs referred to as “career change dogs,” since they're simply changing careers from service animal to pet.Can service dogs sense panic attacks? ›
1) Dogs can predict panic attacks
Because of their acute senses, dogs can recognize that a person is about to experience a panic or anxiety attack. If a service dog is well-trained, it can intervene in the situation before any untoward incident happens.
When a person is experiencing anxiety, there is a release of adrenaline, increased heart rate, and sweating. With their super-sensitive noses, dogs are able to smell changes in hormones. It is very possible that dogs are able to smell anxiety in humans. Building on this capacity are the trainers of service dogs.What do dogs do when they sense anxiety? ›
Symptoms of stress in dogs can include: aggression. panting. excessive barking.How can I help soldiers with PTSD? ›
Veteran Crisis Line: If you are in crisis, please call 911, go to your nearest emergency room, or call 1-800-273-8255 (Para Español llame 1-888-628-9454). Veterans in need of help: Press "1" after you call, or go to Veterans Crisis Line to chat live with a crisis counselor at any time.How do dogs help in the military? ›
Most dogs that successfully complete the 120-day program qualify to be dual-purpose dogs that either patrol and sniff out explosives or patrol and detect drugs. It's also at San Antonio, and also run by the 341st Training Squadron, which has been training dogs at the base since the 1950s.How do soldiers manage PTSD? ›
Lifestyle changes – Interacting with other trauma survivors and other veterans who have experience with PTSD, exercising, eating healthy, volunteering, avoiding drugs and alcohol, spending more time with loved ones and practicing optimism are all helpful.Are PTSD service dogs used in the Army? ›
Eligibility: How to get a service dog for PTSD
Our service dog for PTSD program serves veterans with combat-related PTSD and first-responders with work-related PTSD. You have served in any of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces from any era, and have received an honorable discharge.
Medicine proven to work for treating PTSD. 1-to-1 psychotherapy (also called talk therapy). This includes proven methods like Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).
What are some ways you can show support for and give thanks to our veterans? ›
When you see a veteran or any military personnel, shake their hand and simply say "thank you." This simple act of kindness will brighten up a veteran's day and make him or her feel appreciated.What not to say to a combat veteran? ›
- "How many people have you killed?" ...
- "What kind of action did you see in combat?" ...
- "When are you done?" ...
- "I'm glad you made it back in one piece." ...
- "How could you leave your family for so long?" ...
- "What do you think about what's going on in the news?"
Some of our more basic commands that are frequently used include: “Leave It,” “Let's Go,” “No,” “Wait,” and “Stay.” These commands are used daily in training and sessions and create a foundation for the dogs as they go through the over 100 commands they will ultimately learn at the end of their two and a half years of ...How do service dogs affect veterans? ›
Emotional Healing and Wellness
Therapy dogs can provide emotional benefits to veterans. Having a dog can help suppress unwanted symptoms of PTSD, such as hypervigilance, agitation, and restlessness. It can also help decrease emotional numbness, through the development of bonding relationships.
The 3 keys are: (1) Learn how to stop a stress reaction, (2) Process the trauma, and (3) Meditate daily.Do soldiers ever recover from PTSD? ›
In summary, PTSD tends to be more severe and usually requires working with a mental health professional. Combat stress is a more common reaction to demanding and traumatic experiences. Service members can usually recover and resume their everyday lives by following some simple strategies and taking time to heal.What does PTSD look like in veterans? ›
Many older Veterans find they have PTSD symptoms even 50 or more years after their wartime experience. Some symptoms of PTSD include having nightmares or feeling like you are reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, being easily startled, and loss of interest in activities.Can service dogs improve activity and quality of life in veterans with PTSD? ›
Those with a service dog additionally experienced fewer PTSD related symptoms than those without a service dog and tended to walk more than individuals without PTSD.What happens to military dogs with PTSD? ›
Symptoms — Dogs with PTSD may exhibit symptoms such as shaking, crying, and trying to hide. They can also be aggressive around people, including being resource aggressive. They may also not trust, occasionally mistrusting one sex over the other due to handler neglect or abuse.