Battle Buddies

Organization matches service dogs with veterans

Written by Julie Schillings | Photography by Tobie Andrews Photography

Returning home from deployment does not mean the fighting ends—for some veterans, a new battle begins. Soldiers often struggle with reintegration to civilian life after their military duties have ended.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the suicide rate averages 22 veterans every day. With over 10 times the amount of soldiers lost to suicide than to combat operations in the same time frame, Toney Turner and Chip Neumann, co-owners of Complete K9 dog training in Rose Hill, felt compelled to do something to help Wichita area veterans.

The duo founded Midwest Battle Buddies Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to matching highly trained psychiatric and mobility service dogs with veterans suffering from service-related disabilities or injuries including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or other physical impairments.

“After meeting with many veterans in my area, I have learned they have been put on a two-year waiting list and are being sent out of state to receive a service dog and handler training,” Turner said, “Over 66,000 Veterans in the Wichita area have PTSD, and almost half have applied for a service dog.” Service dogs are proven to lower stress, anxiety and the need for medications for soldiers suffering from PTSD. Turner reports that there are no known suicides of any veteran that owns a service dog.

Service dogs are similar to police dogs. Not every dog has the temperament or the desire to do the work. Turner invests the time to find the right match and the right environment for the dog and the soldier. Midwest Battle Buddies provides certified dogs to veterans at minimal or no cost. Because of the tasks the dogs must learn to perform, initial training takes approximately one year, at a cost of nearly $3,200 per dog for veterinarian fees, food and certification.

Soldiers requesting a dog are thoroughly screened. They must supply their military discharge records, provide a doctor’s recommendation that dog is a medical need and agree to a home visit.

These trained service dogs bring results that medication alone cannot. Lonnie Hutchinson returned from deployment last year after serving in the U.S. Army for six years. Hutchinson’s doctors prescribed antidepressants to reduce his anxiety caused by PTSD, but Hutchinson did not like feeling of numbness the medications caused. After calling 10 organizations across the country to apply for a service dog, Hutchinson found Midwest Battle Buddies through Facebook.

Hutchinson acquired a Rottweiler pup on his own, and now he and 6-month-old Zeus are training with Turner. “Zeus is a smart and highly trainable pup,” Turner said. “The dog and handler have bonded well.”

Happy to report that he has already stopped his antidepressant medications, Hutchinson credits Zeus for helping him manage the situations that are triggers for Hutchinson.

A Battle Buddy enhances a veteran’s quality of life and personal freedom. The dogs are trained to perform specific tasks as needed by their handler. They wake them from nightmares, detect and redirect flashbacks, remind them of medications and guide them from stressful situations. Many of these benefits can be life altering to the veterans struggling with PTSD, giving new healing opportunities for both themselves and their families.

Understanding PTSD

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event such as combat, an assault or a disaster. People with PTSD develop four distinct symptoms during the weeks or months following the event and once the individual has returned to a safe environment:

1. Re-experience the event over and over

2. Avoid people, places or feelings that remind you of the event

3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings

4. Feel “keyed-up” or on edge all the time

PTSD takes a toll on the most caring family and the closest relationships, but it is treatable. Once a veteran seeks help, there are a wide variety of treatment programs and therapies that have turned thousands of lives around.

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD

Midwest Battle Buddies Inc.
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