12 Jun An important step forward in supporting veterans
ANZAC Day was commemorated in 2020, like no other time. There were no large crowds lining the streets to see our veterans march, no catch ups with mates, no games of two-up in a crowded bar. Instead we remembered their service and sacrifice by way of quite reflection, standing alone at the end of our driveway. Kept to our own houses by Covid 19 restrictions.
Without Covid 19 many veterans would have marched, but many wouldn’t. They are proud, but they are also suffering. We have all had our lives restricted for a short period. We were unable to leave the house much, unable to get together with friends or be in crowds. It felt lonely and isolating.
If you can imagine that life as your permanent state and add to it the trauma of re-lived memories you may start to have the smallest understanding of the mental health problems faced by many ex-service personnel.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said the Government has listened to veterans, ex-service organisations and the wider ex-service community about the role psychiatric assistance dogs can play in improving the lives of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Smart Pups is honoured to be selected to work alongside the Department of Veterans Affairs to train and place the first three dogs, Zuma, Leon and Brando under the Federal Government’s Psychiatric Assistance Dogs program.
“This program will change lives and it will save lives, and I have no doubt these dogs will make a difference to their new owners and help them to manage their mental health and wellbeing,” Mr Chester said.
Mr Chester’s words are already proving to be correct.
Australian Army veteran Andrew was one of the first to receive his dog and said that when he met Leon, he knew he was the right dog for him:
“I got a good vibe from him straight away, so I know that we’re going to have a good relationship together. I’m really excited about him being a part of my life now,” Andrew said.
“So, from this point, having Leon as a part of my life is going to give me first and foremost companionship. It’s going to ease my anxiety and my depression a lot having him around. And he already has!
Since the program was announced in September 2019, there has been more than 130 requests from veterans interested in adding an assistance dog to their treatment plan.
The psychiatric assistance dogs are specially trained by Smart Pups to perform tasks that contribute to a veteran’s clinical recovery goals. A recent letter from Australian Army veteran Adam’s family, explains how his dog Zuma is already putting his training to use:
Adam and Zuma have effortlessly found their feet with their routine, commands, going on walks and visiting public places together.
Zuma has already shown signs of concern and given nuzzles in times of anxiety and general day to day down periods. He has woken Adam during nightmares. Their bond in such a short time is amazing.
It is comforting for the whole family to see how well Adam has taken to having Zuma around.
Veterans currently accessing treatment for PTSD are encouraged to speak to their mental health professional in regard to gaining access to a psychiatric assistance dog, or for more information about DVA’s Psychiatric Assistance Dog program visit the DVA website
“The DVA and Smart Pups process up until now has been really easy to understand, straight-forward, and with a person such as myself suffering from PTSD I’ve had no problems at all, it’s been great.” Said Andrew