Veteran Bill Lins gives a command to his service dog, Link, at Friends Community Park in Forest Hill, Md., 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 goes for a walk with his service dog, Link, at Friends Community Park in Forest Hill, Md., Wednesday, 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 ways a service dog can help a veteran 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.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 are some conditions that service dogs help veterans cope with group of answer choices? ›
There are many benefits of service dogs for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Owning a service dog can force people with depression and/or anxiety to take care of themselves and get out into the world. There are also benefits of service dogs for veterans, who often suffer from PTSD.Will the VA pay for a PTSD service dog? ›
Working service dogs prescribed by the Department of Veterans Affairs are provided veterinary care and equipment through the VA Prosthetic & Sensory Aids Service. However, the VA does not pay for the dog or for boarding, grooming, food or other routine expenses.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.What is a service dog for complex PTSD? ›
Service dogs become proficient in performing complex tasks that C-PTSD individuals may need support with: calling emergency services in a crisis, reminding the owner to take their medication, warning them about a situation that could trigger a flashback, or waking up their human partner to go to work or school.How do service dogs affect veterans? ›
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.How to live with a veteran with PTSD? ›
- Familiarize yourself with PTSD treatment options. ...
- Encourage your loved one to talk with other Veterans who have experienced trauma or mental health challenges. ...
- Explore these resources for Veterans experiencing PTSD. ...
- Reach out to Coaching into Care.
calming a person down during an anxiety attack through distraction, such as licking their face or providing a paw. providing deep pressure therapy to soothe their owner. retrieving a phone during an anxiety attack. reminding a person to take their medication at certain times of the day.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.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.
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.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).What animals are best for PTSD? ›
Dogs can help people feel better by providing companionship. All dog owners, including those who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can experience these benefits.Can dogs smell stress and anxiety? ›
Now a study has found that dogs can do something just as remarkable: sniff out stress in people. The dogs were able to smell changes in human breath and sweat, and — with high accuracy — identify chemical odors people emit when feeling stressed.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.What type of anxiety qualify for a service dog? ›
Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs)
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. Or it might help someone in a dissociative episode from wandering into danger.
Assistance dogs have long been recognised as valuable companions for individuals with physical disabilities, however, their ability to also aid those struggling with mental health conditions, like PTSD and C-PTSD is becoming more and more widely studied and recognised.
Are service dogs clingy? ›
The dogs tend to be more clingy and attentive to their caregivers. Those 'velcro dogs' are just what we need when training service dogs, especially for conditions such as diabetes or seizures where the dogs have to pay close attention to changes in the person's physical condition.Can service dogs sense sadness? ›
On this note, research shows that dogs can sense depression, and many of them even respond lovingly to their humans in an attempt to cheer them up. In the same way that we pay attention to their behavior, dogs also pay attention to our actions to determine our “energy” that day.Will the VA pay to train my dog to be a service 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.What do veterans with PTSD struggle with? ›
Persistent negative emotions – Veterans who experience PTSD can be overwhelmed by negative feelings. A veteran may also feel difficulty establishing trust, experience feelings of guilt, shame, remorse, disinterest in previously enjoyable activities, or genuinely find it hard to feel happy.What it's like dating a veteran with PTSD? ›
Male partners of female Veterans with PTSD reported lower well-being and more social isolation. Partners often say they have a hard time coping with their partner's PTSD symptoms. Partners feel stress because their own needs are not being met. They also go through physical and emotional violence.How do you calm a veteran with PTSD? ›
Listen. If your loved one is a veteran with PTSD who wants to talk about what they saw or experienced, encourage them to do so. Maintain a non-judgmental attitude as you listen, and be sure to give them your full attention. If you want to ask questions, keep them unintrusive.Can a service dog sense anxiety? ›
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.What does it mean when a service dog licks you? ›
Although many dogs lick their owners or perform nose bumps as a sign of affection, anxiety service dogs can do these actions on command in the presence of numerical distractions.Can service dogs help with meltdowns? ›
Some autism service dogs are trained to recognize and gently interrupt self-harming behaviors or help de-escalate an emotional meltdown.What accommodations can I ask for with PTSD? ›
- 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.
How do I prove PTSD for disability? ›
- 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.
DSM-5 pays more attention to the behavioral symptoms that accompany PTSD and proposes four distinct diagnostic clusters instead of three. They are described as re-experiencing, avoidance, negative cognitions and mood, and arousal.What is the most common disability rating for PTSD? ›
30% This disability rating is perhaps the most common one.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.Why do dogs help PTSD? ›
A dog's ability to read emotions, provide stress relief, and act as a companion can be critical for a patient diagnosed with PTSD, particularly as they work to combat the intrusive symptoms and impairments associated with PTSD and regain control of their life.How many veterans are waiting for service dogs? ›
Terry Stringer, of Patriot Paws, says there are currently 130 veterans on their waitlist, which translates to a three to five-year waiting list.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 medication do they give dogs for PTSD? ›
Treatment for PTSD in dogs is typically a combination of behavioral and medical approaches. A sedative medication will likely be prescribed. Alprazolam, also known as Xanax, is commonly prescribed as a sedative. Other sedative medications that may be prescribed are Valium, Zoloft, and Prozac.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 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.How hard is it to get 100% for VA PTSD? ›
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 to get to 100% from 70% PTSD? ›
- Method 1: Appeal the Decision or File a New Claim. The most straightforward approach is to appeal VA's decision on the original claim. ...
- Method 2: Prove Individual Unemployability (TDIU) ...
- Method 3: File for a Secondary Service Connection. ...
- Assistance with Your Claims and Appeals.
As of December 1, 2021, veterans with a 70 percent VA disability rating receive $1,663.06 per month in VA compensation. This monetary benefit is tax free at both the federal and state levels. The exact amount of compensation may increase or decrease each year depending on the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).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.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.How much will VA disability go up in 2023? ›
Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, Veterans and beneficiaries who receive VA compensation benefits will see an 8.7% increase in their monthly payments—the largest increase in over 30 years. The annual COLA increase is tied to the Social Security rate change and is based on the consumer price index (CPI).Can dogs sense suicidal thoughts? ›
On this note, research shows that dogs can sense depression, and many of them even respond lovingly to their humans in an attempt to cheer them up. In the same way that we pay attention to their behavior, dogs also pay attention to our actions to determine our “energy” that day.What are the benefits of military dogs? ›
The U.S. military uses dogs in all branches of the service. Dogs are trained for specific jobs, including tracking, explosive detection, patrol, search and rescue, and attack. Their work is invaluable, and it's no wonder that these dogs are precious resources.What are some facts about service dogs for veterans? ›
- Guiding people who are blind.
- Retrieving items for their handler.
- Sniffing out blood sugar problems and seizure episodes.
- Opening doors for people who use wheelchairs.
- Providing physical and emotional support for their handlers.
What do dogs do when you cry? ›
They can't respond to your emotional state in the same way you're expressing it, but they know exactly what default you react to. In other words, their closeness, the nudging of their nose, their unwavering, deep gaze, and their overwhelming warmth make soothing your sadness a possibility.Can a dog sense your anxiety? ›
Dogs can sense when humans are anxious
Dogs are also great observers - our facial expressions, posture, the way we move, the smells we give off, and our tone of voice, all give our dogs vast quantities of information about how we might be feeling.
When a dog is detecting sickness in their human, there are some tell-tale signs you can read simply from your doggy's body language. The dog will raise his snoot and tilt his head when he is trying to concentrate on the things, sounds and smells around him. He will be relaxed, yet alert.Why are service dogs important for veterans? ›
Service dogs have allowed many Veterans a chance to reunite with their families, head back to school, find renewed enjoyment in life, and significantly reduce their medications.Why do veterans like dogs? ›
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.What rank is a military dog? ›
Every military working dog is a non-commissioned officer, in tradition. Military working dogs are always one rank higher than their handlers. NCO status was originally given to military dogs as a custom to prevent handlers from abusing or mistreating their dogs.