On September 11, 2001, our country sustained the worst attack on American soil since the Civil War. Once again, as in previous threats against America, our brave warriors selflessly went into battle to defend our Nation. Like all other wars, the atrocities they experienced were devastating. Many came home with visible scars and disfigurement, and just as many came home with the unseen wounds of war, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and physical disabilities as a result of service.
The results of these injuries are often severely life altering, leading many to cope inadequately with the devastation they witnessed. The outcome for these brave servicemen and women frequently include anxiety, depression, social isolation, divorce, drug or alcohol abuse and suicide. Suicide for military veterans has reached the astounding rate of 22 per day and upwards of 8,000 per year.
So, what is our government doing for our veterans with PTSD? In our opinion...not enough. There are far too many veterans living untreated with these conditions. When diagnosed with PTSD or TBI, evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and medications are available. Unfortunately, veterans participate in a "warrior culture" that discourages the communication of weakness or empathy, which makes asking for and accepting help more challenging for veterans. (1)
Therefore, a new treatment model would be beneficial. We feel that in addition to evidenced based treatments, another form of treatment has been proven to be highly successful for the overall well-being of veterans suffering the effects of PTSD and TBI. At Project Delta, this treatment involves the inclusion of dogs. Not just any dog, but dogs that are often overlooked and forgotten... shelter and rescue dogs.
We at Project Delta are disturbed by statistics regarding the "throw away" dogs in our country. Nearly 4,000,000 of our beloved canine buddies are surrendered to shelters throughout the country each year. Many of these dogs are rescued from abusive, neglectful or unsafe conditions. Unfortunately, approximately 1,200,000 of these dogs are euthanized every year.
We are convinced of this truth... many of the so called, "throw-away" dogs are just as suitable for providing service to veterans disabled with PTSD or TBI as the dogs bred for this purpose. So, what we do at Project Delta is pair veterans and recently first responders with PTSD and/or TBI with shelter or rescue dogs. Prior to the veteran-dog pairing, the dogs are prescreened by experienced dog trainers for basic service-dog criteria, temperament, neutrality and a desire to work. Upon matching, at no charge to the veteran, we train the veteran and dog to work as a service dog team. This process takes approximately 12-18 months depending on the needs of the veteran. Project Delta provides ongoing training and mandatory recertification for the service dog team.
In addition to 1:1 training, group training and task training, we have created an atmosphere for group discussions including opportunities to work with veteran service officers. We have also created partnerships with local veteran organizations for potential veterans and first responders requiring more extensive mental health work up prior to entering the Project Delta program.
Project Delta is a 501c(3) non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, MN.