Emotional support animals have become increasingly common ways to help people struggling with mental health issues cope and live better, more fulfilling lives. Through their service and sacrifice, many of our veterans have experienced traumatic events that have left them scarred.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among veterans who have had exposure to such events and can trigger inescapable feelings of fear, anxiety, avoidance, and panic that can affect their ability to live out their daily lives.
Thankfully, emotional support animals may provide a solution by reducing fear and anxiety through therapeutic companionship and improving a veteran’s quality of life.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that manifests in individuals who have lived through or witnessed traumatic events, series of events, or prolonged experiences. People with PTSD often experience intense, intrusive thoughts and feelings that take them back to their experience. People with PTSD may experience the following:
- Estrangement from other people
PTSD can be triggered by anything that reminds the person of their experience and may cause the individual to experience nightmares or flashbacks where they relive the event, become estranged and avoid human contact, and feel uncontrollable bouts of anger, fear, or depression.
It’s easy to see why PTSD affects a veteran’s ability to function. Thankfully, one avenue that is shown to help people living with PTSD is through developing a relationship with an emotional support animal.
Emotional support animals have seen a significant rise in use over the past decade and have become common among people with chronic mental health conditions.
Emotional support animals are companions that mental health professionals prescribe to address emotional disability in an individual. They can be any animal, but cats and dogs are the most common emotional support animals. Anecdotal evidence and a growing body of research demonstrate that having an animal friend may be a helpful and therapeutic outlet for those struggling with mental health concerns.
Emotional support animals are not to be confused with service animals and are typically dogs trained to assist in performing functions or tasks for the individual. For example, a seeing-eye dog is a type of service animal.
Because they assist the owner with physical tasks, they are afforded protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that emotional support animals do not receive. However, emotional support animals have some protections in that they can live with owners regardless of pet policies under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Nonetheless, emotional support animals have proven to positively impact the lives of individuals and veterans with PTSD and other mental health conditions by mitigating or reducing the impact of symptoms or episodes.
- They calm anxiety: Emotional support animals can help lessen the effects of overbearing mental states such as anxiety.
- They provide mental support: PTSD and other mental illnesses can dramatically alter one’s mental state. Whether it’s instability or a lowered disposition, emotional support animals can provide a positive outlet for intense emotions.
- They give unconditional companionship: Animals are great at giving and receiving love. People dealing with lowered mental states, such as depression, can be a beam of light. This companionship can improve an individual’s overall mental health.
- They complement other forms of treatment: Emotional support animals don’t have to work alone. Mental health experts recommend adding emotional support animals to mental health treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Emotional support animals can improve results when used in conjunction with other treatments.
- They provide social support: The heightened emotional state and ability to cope with symptoms mean that people with emotional support animals are more likely to engage with the people around them and build meaningful relationships with their loved ones.
- They help ground the individual into reality: For people dealing with PTSD, reliving traumatic experiences can send them down spirals of poor mental health. However, the presence of their emotional support animal can be a safety net that reminds them that they are no longer in a traumatic situation.
As you can see, emotional support animals provide a swath of benefits for our veterans. Whether it’s mental stability or enhancing the effectiveness of therapy, veterans dealing with mental health conditions such as PTSD may see drastic improvements in their lives with the help of an emotional support animal.
How Do I Get an Emotional Support Animal?
The first step in veterans adding emotional support animals to their lives is to receive a valid emotional support animal letter. ESA letters are official documents issued by physicians or licensed medical health professionals. They are valid for one year and renewed annually.
ESA letters must state the following:
- That the veteran has a diagnosis or diagnosis for mental health concerns and they are receiving treatment for it from the letter’s issuer.
- What type of animal the emotional support animal is.
- Whether the emotional support animal is necessary for the treatment of the veteran’s condition.
- The letter issuer’s license number, its date and state of issue, and the type of license.
While there are legitimate websites that can help you get ESA letters, many websites claim to offer ESA letters for a fee with no certifications. Beware of these when looking online, as the only way to verify your emotional support animal is through an ESA letter.
By having an ESA, the veteran’s emotional support animal will be able to prove its validity to landlords and exercise their Fair Housing Act rights when renting the property if they do not typically allow pets. Also, while airlines are no longer required to afford the same privileges to emotional support animals as they do service dogs, some still allow emotional support animals on flights and will require a valid ESA letter.