A South Australian veteran is the first to receive an assistance dog from one of two new providers under the Australian Government’s Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said Xena, trained by the Royal Society for the Blind (RSB) in South Australia, has now been handed over to a veteran to support them with managing their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“These dogs are specially trained to perform tasks that help with the recovery of their veteran handler and are trained to detect signs of distress and perform specific tasks to help alleviate those symptoms,” Mr Chester said.

“We are hearing stories every day of how the program is changing the lives of our veterans and improving their quality of life by helping them manage their PTSD symptoms on a daily basis.

“RSB is a 136-year-old organisation and their experience in training our canine companions will go a long way towards supporting veterans to manage their PTSD, which in turn helps those families that provide vital support.

“The Government’s program continues to deliver positive results by providing a psychiatric assistance dog to eligible veterans with PTSD as part of their ongoing mental health treatment plan.”

Xena and her veteran handler have now completed their training and share each day together.

“Xena has been just wonderful for me. She has made me feel calmer, more settled, and my housemates have already commented on the changes in me,” the veteran said.

“I just feel more grounded, and less anxious with her by my side. When I go to university, she has made me feel more comfortable as a part of a crowd, and better able to engage with my fellow students.”

The program has grown to include four providers across Australia, with 13 psychiatric assistance dogs having passed their all-important training and more than 80 dogs are in training.

“Since the program was announced in September 2019, more than 200 requests from veterans interested in adding an assistance dog to their treatment plan have been received,” Mr Chester said.

“This is just one of the ways we are putting veterans and their families first, and I look forward to seeing more eligible veterans experiencing the difference an assistance dog can make to their lives.”

RSB are one of four providers of psychiatric assistance dogs through DVA, which includes Integra Service Dogs, Smart Pups Assistance Dogs, and the Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia.

The program is available to eligible veterans who have a diagnosis of PTSD and forms part of their current PTSD treatment plan. Veterans currently accessing treatment for PTSD may wish to speak to their mental health professional to see if a psychiatric assistance dog would be a suitable adjunct to treatment.  For more information about DVA’s Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program visit the DVA website.

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