Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among soldiers returning from war and cannot always be treated with medication or talk therapy, causing some organizations to turn to service dogs to provide support and emotional relief.
Jordan Covin, founder of The Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, has a husband and brother that served in the U.S. Army. Neither one of her family members suffers from service-related illnesses, but she says that her proximity to them gives her a unique sense of empathy, which she uses to help others.
"We are a coalition of nonprofits that only work with military veterans and focus on meeting their specific needs with service dogs," Covin said Thursday on Capitol Hill. "But it's not only about the dog. The dog is just a tool. What we actually provide is a place where veterans can gather to share their feelings of isolation and alienation. We help create a sense of community and purpose, by bringing the right people together."
Covin said that groups within her organization have become a network — sharing information and resources instead of competing against one another. She hopes to continue expanding the association, adding more groups who share her vision and goal.
In fact, the idea of using a service dog for psychiatric or emotional reasons is relatively new. Service dogs were originally tasked to perform physical functions for those were incapacitated, such as a seeing eye dog. Covin said that's all changing now, thanks to a demand for more alternative treatments to address PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a consequence of a traumatic experience. It consists of normal responses and reactions to a life-threatening event that persisted beyond what is deemed the normal period of recovery from the event. USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay
"We all know about dogs for blindness and injuries, but using dogs as a psychiatric tool is very new. It's an alternative treatment program and that presents challenges. But the niche group that looks only at this and is specializing in this, we can push this into mainstream. It's not alternative anymore. That is how we want to be seen," she said.
Eighty-two percent of voters from military households where at least one member is active support the use of marijuana to treat PTSD, according to a 2016 Quinnipiac University poll. These numbers show that once-taboo treatment methods are beginning to find their way into the mainstream. Covin hopes this will continue happening with service dogs.
"We hope to bring in some grant money for research — bring together a group of experts, and help refine a programmatic model for these veterans that serves their needs best, and maximizes the efficiency of their service dog," she said.
The Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans held a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday with several lawmakers that supported passing the PAWS (Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members) Act. The bill has bipartisan support and, if passed, would allocate grant money to eligible organizations that pair service dogs with soldiers suffering from PTSD.
"Veterans have given enough and need to be treated with dignity, respect and honor — that's what our association ensures," Covin said.