Post-Traumatic Stress in Military and Emergency First Responders

“If only my mind could forget what my eyes have seen…”

This is a statement that has been echoed, countless times, by military veterans and first responders across the nation.  PTSD was first given recognition in 1980 when the American Psychological Association added this as a recognized diagnosis to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) classification scheme.  Though it is classified under mental health disorders, a key feature of this diagnosis was the distinction that has been made that PTSD is not due to an inherent individual weakness, but instead develops following a traumatic event that occurs outside of the individual, and outside of the range of the normal human experience.   This diagnosis initially received the most recognition among returning military, however, today we recognize this same pattern among emergency first responders.  Though PTSD is also found in survivors of traumatic events, we focus the discussion this month on military veterans and first responders.  Attention to this latter group has been more recent, and certainly the events of 9/11 have served as a catalyst for research into the effects that trauma have on our police, fire and EMS personnel.  Today, there is an ongoing dialogue in the professional community regarding a need to redefine post-traumatic stress as a line of duty injury- rather than as a disorder.

In these populations, it is the very nature of the job that results in trauma, and as opposed to private citizens who may experience a single traumatic event in their lives, our military and first responders experience traumatic stressors every day on the job.  PTSD, in these settings, develops as a direct consequence of the cumulative effects of repeated trauma over a long period of time.  PTSD is a debilitating condition, and is characterized by flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, hypervigilance and uncontrolled thoughts of the event.  In addition, individuals who develop PTSD tend to isolate and withdraw.  This is believed to be in part due to a culture within these groups that frowns upon a “show of weakness”, or even talking about the event.  Many are taught to “shake it off and get back to work”.  Among these occupations the rates of divorce, addiction and suicide are dramatically increased in relation to the general population.

The FSDS is witnessing an upsurge in the requests for dogs to assist with PTSD issues.  These requests are coming from both military and first responders and it is important for the public to understand that there are some very complex dynamics that are at play.  Some of the individuals are active duty and received a severe line of duty injury, while others are retired and have suffered the cumulative stress of repeated trauma on a daily basis for years.  They are now coming forward to ask for assistance, recognizing the new awareness of the community and hopeful that at last help will be forthcoming.  Help is still sporadic, at best.  There are many organizations that will provide SDs for PTSD, but only to military, excluding first responders.  Others will provide assistance only to those military with combat related injury, excluding those veterans who were honorably discharged, became first responders and now require assistance.

The FSDS provides assistance to both groups of heroes, neither one to the exclusion of the other.  SDs are trained to perform tasks such as re-orienting a person to the here and now, waking a person from nightmares, protecting them and getting assistance during flashbacks, fetching any needed medication in times of anxiety, etc.  It is the task-oriented nature of the work that differentiates a SD from an emotional support animal (a pet).

We urge all of our readers to support both groups of wounded heroes.

Happy Veterans Day

November 11th is Veterans Day and we do want to take this opportunity to give due recognition and thanks to our brave military veterans who have served.  To you we owe our freedom, and a debt of gratitude for your services.

Classroom News

Estrella Mountain– with successful completion of the Public Access Test behind them, the students turned their attention to the Canine Good Citizen Test.  This is one of the three tests that each team must pass on the road to SD certification.  Canine Good Citizen Testing has begun and we are so proud of our teams, who are all turning in great performances.  This is a direct reflection of the hard work that the students have put into the training.  Students also did a super job during the GAIN Event sponsored by the Peoria Police and Fire Dept. during the month of Oct. , and were treated to a visit by McGruff the Crime Dog!  Our student trainers were on hand to provide information and education to the public on service dog and disability issues.

Canine Good Citizen Star Performers:

  • Megan Gruntmeir and Trevor
  • Abby Corbin and Gaston
  • Salem Ruiz and Cody
  • Katie and alternate handlers
  • Joslyn Jendry and Remy
  • Grace Gordon and Alphonzo (“Fonzie”)

Upcoming Teams to Test:

  • Nadia Dimang and Levi
  • Karen Molina and Caleb

Paradise Valley– this campus is about to go to the dogs- or at least to the puppies.  We are excited to announce that we have secured 10 beautiful, healthy purebred Golden Retriever puppies for training on this campus. The PV class is our largest ever, and currently we have 24 students enrolled.  This month, the puppies will be placed with their trainers.  Some students will receive a dog to live with them, while others will be alternate handlers and will be assigned to a team, playing a critical role in the training process.  We are very proud of how well these students are all doing.  Before this month is over, all 24 students will also have received their certification in canine first aid and CPR.  Keep up the good work!


3rd from right: Linda Proctor Downing receives award for excellence in disability education.


Please join us in congratulating Detective Tina Sollazzo and Officer Scott Sefranka from the Phoenix Police Department on the successful completion of their canine CPR training.  Good Job!

Four paws up to Linda Proctor Downing, Exec. Director of AAEC High Schools.  This past month Linda was honored by the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues and named as the Outstanding Educator for 2015.

Thank You

We wish to extend our sincere thanks to the following individuals for their generous donations to support our program in the past month:

  • Frank and Judy Sedich
  • Valerie Schluter
  • Eddie Nichols
  • Mr. and Mrs. Rodenmaker

Upcoming Job Opening

Please check back to our site in mid-November.  We will be posting a job opening for an Event Planner / Fundraising Coordinator.  We urge interested parties to put together a resume for submission later this month.  An employment application will be available once the job is posted.  The FSDS is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Board of Director Positions

The Board of Directors is looking to recruit an attorney and an accountant to the Board.  If you are interested in getting involved with the FSDS please contact us.

Wellness Tip

November is the official start of the holiday season, as we remind our readers to keep people food away from dogs.  Some foods in particular, such as chocolate, macadamia nuts and raisins are toxic to dogs.  Some safety tips are:

  • Avoid placing candy and nut dishes on coffee tables or end tables where your dog can reach
  • Ensure that your kitchen garbage can has a lid to keep dogs from exploring any discarded food
  • Do not feed table scraps to your dog
  • Do not hang cookies or other edible treats on a tree for decoration where you dog can reach

Wishing you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Holiday Party

Our annual Holiday Party will be held on Thursday, Oct. 3rd this year.  Please help us to provide gifts for our puppies by visiting our GoFundMe page, or by donating directly to the FSDS.

Photo Gallery

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