by Warriors Heart
“Going to the movies was the worst: the crowds, the dark, the crackling of popcorn and wrappers… the whispering. I was constantly waiting, watching to spot who was the enemy,” recalls Dennis Bradford, a 39-year-old former Army Ranger from Atlanta, Ga.
Discharged in 2008 after serving his last deployment in Afghanistan, fear, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse quickly swept into his life. Many Veterans who have to readjust to life outside of the military, find their PTSD symptoms are heightened. Paranoia, fear, and lack of structure lead to self-medication, depression, or worse.
Every Veteran goes through a transition when coming out of the military and active duty. Many don’t know how to fit in with non-Veterans. “I went from knowing my schedule day in and out, being told what to do and when to ‘figure it out,’ stated Bradford. “As a Ranger, my world was black and white, right and wrong. “I quickly realized that civilian life is filled with a lot of gray areas, and I had to relearn where I was going to live, what I was going to do, and how I would survive.”
Isolated, Bradford separated himself from his closest friends and family, “I couldn’t show affection, couldn’t even look at my children.”
Realizing he was missing out on the most important moments in life he longed to be a part of, he reached out to a friend and former Ranger. “Hanging from his belt was a container of doggie treats,” recalls Bradford. Seemingly ambient to anyone else, Bradford attributes this specific link to the treatment he credits with saving his life.
Service dogs have long helped veterans with physical disabilities. While there have been stories about veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder being transformed by service animals, the peer-reviewed science wasn’t there to back up the claims. Studies suggest service dogs can be effective at easing PTSD symptoms and used alongside other treatments.
Living with PTSD is a process, and evidence-based treatments help people to live a life, and do things they tend to avoid, due to life with PTSD; standing close to a stranger or going into a movie without scanning it for danger first. Studies have shown that dogs who help those living with PTSD, have an 85% success rate in preventing Veteran suicide.
“I watched K9s pushing themselves to their fullest potential, something I could personally relate to with my time in Regiment,” stated Bradford. “I wanted to help this creature, this spirit, who I knew was helping me to push me to my highest level of self to survive. I couldn’t quit on him.”
Veterans at Warriors Heart, a private treatment facility, exclusively for Warriors, providing care for addiction, chemical dependency & PTS for active military, veterans, law enforcement, and first responders, can apply to the K9 academy to train their K9 to their specific PTS disability or they can learn to be a dog trainer. The dogs come to Warriors Heart from shelters, rescues, and public donations. Out of a hundred dogs, at least two make the cut. The end goal is not only to provide a service but to save a life.
Veterans aren’t obligated to closure; taking the next step into healing is a personal choice, and the provision of a K9 requires the thought that there is more than one life involved.
It’s no surprise that a doe-eyed creature like the one at Bradford’s side can soothe, but other benefits are less predictable. The animals draw out even the most isolated personality, and having to praise the animals helps traumatized veterans overcome emotional numbness.
Teaching the dogs service commands develops a patient’s ability to communicate, and to be assertive but not aggressive, a distinction some struggle with. The dogs can also ease the hypervigilance common in vets with PTSD. Some participants report they finally got some sleep knowing that a naturally alert soul was standing watch.
Research has shown that bonding with dogs has biological effects, such as elevated levels of the hormone oxytocin; improved trust, the ability to interpret facial expressions, the overcoming of paranoia, and other pro-social effects—the opposite of PTSD symptoms.
“Rather than the current one-size-fits-all approach, our warriors are offered uniquely designed and individually tailored programs, including ample recreational opportunities, hobbies, and outdoor wellness,” stated Warriors Heart co-Founder, Tom Spooner.
Warriors Heart recognizes the need for a cultural shift to provide these warriors with the support they deserve, without the stigma of appearing fragile; offering a sanctuary for sick and suffering members of the Warrior community to come together under one common goal – to recover.
There is a well-known saying among veterans and first responders, “The only one that knows what a soldier is going through is another soldier.”
Regardless of how strong you are, and how fit for battle you might believe yourself to be, some battles require a force. Warriors Heart knows first-hand the magnitudes of being in battle and provides a place where that mentality, warriors helping warriors, resides in the hearts of every member of the team. Other warriors and team members personally connect with those who have reached a point in their life where they think they have nothing to live for; showing them that strength is found in this unique facility, that simply and truly believes in the power of the warrior community, the power of each human who walks through the door of Warriors Heart and the power of each graduate who proudly emerges through the gates after graduation.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
If you or a warrior need help with addiction, PTS, or co-occurring issues, please contact Warriors Heart’s 24-hour hotline (844-448-2567) answered by warriors, and/or visit https://warriorsheart.com.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.