News / USA

Therapy Dogs Help US Veterans Beat Stress Disorders

Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen with his therapy dog, Yoko.
Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen with his therapy dog, Yoko.
Zulima Palacio
WASHINGTON – According to a Rand Corporation study, more than 26 percent of American troops deployed overseas have returned to the US with traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD since 2001.  Experimental programs that pair combat veterans suffering from brain injuries and PTSD with therapy dogs have showed positive results.  Now four U.S. military bases have programs with dogs. Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen, who was injured twice in combat, has benefited from the program.

Simonsen, the senior enlisted leader at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury he received while deployed in Afghanistan.  He's been working with Yoko, a Black Labrador retriever, in his struggle through it.  
 
“I think sometimes she realizes when I have a particularly tough email that I have to write, she would interrupt me and say, it’s Yoko time, it’s time to pet my belly.  And she is usually right," he admits.

Simonsen received Yoko from "Paws for Purple Hearts", a group that provides therapy dogs to members of the military. Yoko's job: to help Simonsen adjust back home. Yoko can follow more than 90 commands.

Since returning home,  Simonsen has been battling anxiety, depression and memory loss, like thousands of other combat veterans suffering from the mental wounds of war.
 
“The things that were really easy for me, were a little more difficult, hard sometimes," he explains, "and the things in life that you can do but you struggle at doing them, became impossible."

Simonsen says since he received Yoko, life has become easier.

“Mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD have a lot of overlapping symptoms," explains Dr. Michael Yochelson, the medical director at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington.  "The symptoms include difficulty concentrating, a lot of fatigue, irritability, depressed mood, sadness, anxiety.”

Dr.Yochelson says medication and psychotherapy are the usual treatments, but pet therapy also helps.  

"We actually have pets that come in that are specially trained and we do that in our hospital here,” he says.

Yoko, like other therapy dogs, received two years of special training so she can sense when her companion is depressed and be both unobtrusive and an unconditional friend.

Simonsen takes Yoko wherever he goes on the base. He says having a dog at his side has helped him and others open up.  
 
“I am the guy with the dog,”  he jokes.
 
When the Chief Simonsen is with his family, Yoko is off duty. But Simonsen's daughter Rachel says since Yoko came to live with them, her father is less irritable.
 
“I am very proud to call him my dad, and I love Yoko for what she does for him every day,"  she says.
 
“I don’t think everyone needs to walk around with a service dog," Simonsen notes, "but I think there are more veterans out there, whether they are on active duty or not, who would benefit from at least time with dogs.”

For Simonsen, the slow road to healing is easier now with his four-legged friend at his side.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More