By Helen Young
As we’re all painfully aware, the VA is staggering under the strain of all the suffering veterans in need of help. Unable to get the conventional help they need (and perhaps not really benefiting from the nature of that conventional help), many vets are falling through the cracks. It is suspected that far more veterans than actively seek help are suffering from PTSD and similar conditions - and of those who do seek help, many do not receive it. This is an extremely worrying situation, given the scale of the problem. However, some veterans are getting help from alternative or unconventional therapies. We’ve already covered some of these in passing, but here I’d like to take a closer look at one such treatment method: pet or animal therapy.
Animals and Mental Health
There have been many studies into the effects of animals upon our mental health. It seems that animals with which we form an emotional connection - particularly dogs - are capable of having a beneficial and even transformative effect upon our state of mind. Animals can calm us, reduce our stress levels, boost our moods, play a significant part in banishing conditions like depression, lower our blood pressure, improve our physical health, raise our self-esteem, and even help us to get over addictions. The reasons behind this are varied, and have a lot to do with our precise relationship with the animals in question. Although therapy animals brought in to meet patients who do not know them frequently do have an uplifting effect (and we’ve all heard the anecdotes about how things like swimming with dolphins and communicating with horses can enact healing ‘miracles’) - it’s generally agreed that those in need feel the most benefit from animal therapy if they have a permanent to semi-permanent relationship with the animal. For this reason, some organizations are offering ‘service animals’ for veterans suffering from war-related mental trauma.
Given the long and extensive relationship humans have enjoyed with dogs, our brains tend to be better equipped to connect on an emotional level with dogs than with other animals. This is not to say that people cannot form deep and beneficial bonds with non-canine buddies, but in general dogs are the favored option for service animal organizations. Not only are they capable of great bonding, communication, and emotional understanding with humans, they can also be trained to fulfil roles which may actively help to improve or avoid PTSD symptoms and triggers. For example, a PTSD assistance dog could be trained to recognise specific sights, sounds, and smells which may provoke a reaction from their handler. Given the enhanced sensory repertoire available to canines, it is likely that the dog would be able to sense the trigger before their handler did, and lead their handler away from it. Many former service men and women have also noted that the presence of a dog makes them feel as though they can relax and ‘drop their guard’ a little more than they otherwise would. Hyper-vigilance being quite a large problem for many veterans, this is a considerable advantage. On a more ephemeral level, dogs (and many other animals) can help the traumatized to reconnect with their emotions, to develop their communication skills, and to generate confidence in themselves. Being loved and relied upon by an animal gives both a sense of responsibility and a sense of self-worth which is invaluable for those who have experienced trauma. Some have also said that their animals help them out socially by providing a ‘safe’ talking point, thus enabling them to re-integrate more effectively into society.
A Burgeoning Business
As yet, there are no official routes by which one may obtain a PTSD assistance animal. But there are charities and other organizations springing up which help those in need to find and train assistance animals in accordance with their needs. Some people train their own family dogs to help them out in specific ways, while others are assigned or choose puppies from the relevant organization. Due to the highly individualized ways in which service-related trauma presents itself, one cannot train a ‘general’ assistance animal in this respect. Instead, dog and handler must go through the training process together from day one. For most, the training process itself is very therapeutic, not only helping dog and handler to bond, but also allowing the veteran to learn about and perhaps start coming to terms with their own triggers and issues.
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Originally published at www.SOFREP.com on December 4th 2015
As the conflict with radical Islam’s newest creation continues, the U.S. remains divided on the solution. President Obama has stated emphatically that his administration will not be flooding the region with conventional troops, preferring to increase the frequency of air strikes and the deployment of special operations units. On the right side, several Republican senators, including John McCain from Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and presidential candidates such as Donald Trump, have called for the insertion of a large contingent of ground troops as a supplement to the air strikes currently underway. Meanwhile, ISIS has expressed their deep desire to meet the U.S. and its allies on their turf, a marked difference from al-Qaeda’s mission to bring the war to our shores.
This time around in the continued War on Terror, despite the fact that the U.S. can now count on the cooperation of France and possibly Russia, the script remains largely the same: We’re once again facing off against radicalized Muslims hell-bent on the destruction of anything resembling Western culture, fixated on the establishment of Sharia-based state. Our previous reaction was to go balls-deep in Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban and capture the much-reviled Osama Bin Laden. However, the Bush administration was obsessed with what they believed was a clear and present danger to U.S national security and insisted, despite UN (and ironically French) opposition, on the departure of Iraqi president and former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein. Bush got what he wanted, though at a great cost in American lives (4,400+ killed/32,000+ wounded) and to the American treasury (immediate cost of $1.7 trillion, not including interest and VA costs). That’s not to mention the foreign-relations disaster the war caused when it was realized the evidence Colin Powell presented to the UN, which ruined his political career, was based on faulty intelligence (and I’m being very diplomatic with that description).
The original intent was to establish a democratic Iraq, with the hope that democracy would spread throughout the Middle East and thus ensure a more secure world for all. The outcome was decidedly different than our objective; we not only failed to increase world security, but we inadvertently created an enemy far more brutal and savage than our worst fears could imagine—ISIS.
After over a decade (and still counting) of bloodshed and unprecedented spending to eliminate the threat of terror for Americans and the rest of the free world, the U.S. is an even larger target for the world’s Islamic radical. The American-brand Iraqi government and military, forged by our blood and treasure, quickly succumbed to ISIS, despite being better equipped and being vastly larger in number. The only adversary to ISIS of any consequence in the region was, and remains, the Kurdish militia, who despite being outnumbered and virtually surrounded, have continued to make a stand against ISIS in Iraq as well as in Syria.
However, the Kurds are despised and officially unrecognized by their neighbors, which include Iran, Iraq, Syria, and American ally Turkey, which attacked Kurdish positions in Syria via air strikes this year. This only adds to the increasing diplomatic strain inside the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, which includes our former Cold War nemesis, Russia, whose own relations with Turkey continue to deteriorate. Let’s hope we can emulate our grandparents and put aside these fundamental differences and disagreements to unite against a common enemy. At the moment, this doesn’t seem very promising.
We must consider the results of the 2003 intervention in Iraq and the deployment of conventional forces in large numbers; the outcome was a disaster of epic proportions. The use of surgical air strikes, though effective, will not win this war by themselves. No war has ever been won without boots on the ground, as history attests. The U.S. has inserted special operations forces and continues to do so to support coalition efforts to strike at ISIS targets in the region. However, with every new attack executed by members of ISIS (officially or otherwise), the clearer it becomes that more is needed.
The question remains: What must be done, in addition to current operations, to ensure the annihilation of ISIS? How can we secure victory in the region while avoiding the catastrophic outcome of the war in Iraq? In addition, how can we ensure the security of our nation at home without sacrificing our national ideal of freedom? Should we close up our borders, withdraw within, and introduce a period of Wilsonian isolationism, rejecting any and all immigrants despite our long history as the destination for the world’s huddled and yearning masses fleeing from tyranny? Will we allow ISIS to fundamentally transform this nation into something hardly recognizable to our founding fathers? And will that actually produce the victory we all so desperately want for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children? More importantly, will this latest sacrifice—to include more bloodshed of tens of thousands of American lives and more spending pushing us ever closer to total financial ruin—be worth the cost? Will it produce the outcome we seek, or are we doomed to repeat the disaster that was the Iraq War?
This increasingly complicated issue is poised to affect the lives of millions for generations to come. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis has America been in such threatening and complex circumstances, and not one of the current candidates inspires like Kennedy. Let’s hope the new administration we elect to the White House is stacked with this country’s best and brightest. They, and we, are gonna need it.
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