Vets Say Military Should Support Use of Service Dogs for PTSD

Warrant Officer Jocelyn Boucher uses a dog to help with PTSD
CBC News
Posted: May 16, 2013 3:15 PM ET
Jocelyn Boucher, who was doing a military desk job part time after serving as a warrant officer in the Canadian Forces, uses his dog Spirit to help with symptoms from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some Canadian Forces members and veterans say the military culture needs to accept the usefulness of service dogs for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Many former soldiers are now acquiring specially trained dogs to help them manage anxiety, anger and stressful situations.

Jocelyn Boucher, who served as a warrant officer doing military intelligence in the Canadian Forces for three decades overseas, said he began taking his support dog, Spirit, to his part-time job only to be told a short time later his services were no longer needed.

Boucher was under doctor’s instructions to limit his work to two half-days a week. He and his wife were surprised at his release, as he had recently signed on for three more months at two half-days a week.

“I said, ‘Is this about my dog?’ He said, ‘No, no it’s not about your dog. It’s about the hours,'” Boucher said.

His wife Theresa said she’s convinced he was let go because of the dog. She said the military culture needs to change.

“He was very transparent about his injury,” she said. “If they’re not going to understand it there, nobody’s ever going to understand.”

While Veteran’s Affairs Canada covers costs to veterans who use service dogs for physical disabilities such as visual impairment, they haven’t done so for workers who use the dogs for mental health reasons.

The department said it is studying animal therapy for its soldiers and would consider the benefits of service dogs for veterans suffering from mental health issues, including potentially covering the costs, according to a spokesman with the department.

Lieutenant-General Walter Semianiw said the department is currently studying animal therapy in conjunction with St. John’s Ambulance and Can Praxis, a partnership between the Canadian Forces and psychologists who use horses to aid veterans with social and communication skills.

“What you see in talking to those veterans is that it does help, having that animal with them, which is why again the minister [Steven Blaney] said we need to move quickly in bringing this program into the department’s kind of suite of programs to be able to assist our veterans,” said Semianiw, the assistant director of communications for Veterans Affairs.

He said after that study is complete, the government would consider looking at the benefits of service animals.

While the department would not speak about Boucher’s case, a Treasury Board spokesman said many employees in the public service bring service dogs to work and that the government has a duty to accommodate people with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship.

Drugs funded, dogs aren’t

Retired colonel Pat Stogren is training his own service dog, named Apollo, and said it was frustrating that Veteran’s Affairs will pay for prescription drugs for PTSD, but not a service dog.

“They say there’s no science in it, they say, ‘Well we don’t want to experiment with your health,'” he said.

“They’ve given me these chemical compounds. They’re quite prepared to practise that black art.”

Stogren said the dogs have helped in cases he’s seen.

“I encountered all sorts of anecdotal evidence where very serious psychological disabilities were overcome because of the companionship that a dog provides a person,” Stogren said.

Until this week, Jocelyn Boucher and other soldiers also weren’t allowed to take service dogs to therapy sessions at Ottawa’s military hospital. After CBC inquired about the Department of National Defence’s policy, a new one was put in place.

The department says Canadian Forces members — like Boucher — can now bring certified service dogs along to appointments.

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