From the Deckplates

By Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Veterans’ Affairs treatment facilities have suffered from well-documented shortages of PTSD care-providers, and the number of patients may increase as the stigma of the disorder diminishes. Veterans from other wars may, and hopefully have, sought treatment for the wounds they continue to battle. The words of former Army medic Bernard Friedenberg remind us of how long some veterans battle PTSD. Even 68 years after the D-Day invasion, just like the scars on his body, the scars on his mind “will never heal” (“D-Day Medic Haunted by ‘The Boy on the Beach,’” Joshua Rhett Miller,, 6 June 2012).

Treatment is great, but can we reduce the occurrence of PTSD?

The photo on the cover of the June 2011 issue of Military Officer magazine suggests to me that canine therapy, even without dogs specifically trained for the role, may take place during combat and before PTSD sets in. The photograph shows Lance Corporal Brandon Tucker, a Marine Corps canine handler, sitting with his back against a building, his eyes closed, displaying a contented smile elicited by his working dog, Augie, licking his face.

Could a dog trained to sniff out improvised explosive devices and save Marines’ lives in fact reduce the likelihood that its handler returns home with PTSD?

Military working dogs (MWDs) themselves suffer from PTSD according to specialists who train them. As reported in a 2 December 2011 KTLA News article, about five percent of MWDs returning from combat zones suffer PTSD-like symptoms. What about their handlers? Do the companionship and bond between handler and dog reduce the occurrence of PTSD among these troops? Do those who suffer from PTSD have better treatment results and recovery?

Since many animal therapies rely on animals without specific training, another group worthy of study is troops who “adopt” dogs while deployed. Some forge such a bond that they have sought and won approval to return these pets to the United States. Similarly, what about troops who return home to a beloved pet or acquire a new one? Considering the success of dog therapy for sufferers of PTSD and depression, these questions are worthy of study in an effort to see if these enduring injuries can be prevented.

Treating veterans’ injuries and related symptoms for as long as they last is this nation’s responsibility. So too is preventing them. We invest much time, research, and money in the development of technology to make our troops safer and prevent physical injury and death. We should do the same with PTSD by identifying factors that reduce its occurrence or speed its treatment.

Treating PTSD is expensive and a strain on limited resources, and too many lives are lost or destroyed by it. Troops should no longer feel the need to suffer in silence, yet far too many cases continue to go unreported and untreated. As with any other war injury, we owe those who serve our best efforts toward its prevention.

Senior Chief Murphy retired from the Navy after 21 years of service. He is a contributing author to Everyday Leader Heroes (Caboodle Books, forthcoming).


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