Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Inc. is committed to bringing awareness to, and reducing the number of suicides in our veteran community. This year, we were nominated, and are now finalists for a VETTY® Award, presented by the Academy of United States Veterans. We won a VETTY in 2017, in the Mental Health Category, and were finalists in both 2018 and 2019. This year, we are nominated in the Suicide Prevention category. Guardian Angels is proud to serve veterans of ALL conflicts – not only post-9/11. Below is our 2020 entry as submitted for consideration:
Mitigation of Symptoms:
At the core of our mission is training Medical Service Dogs to assist those struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress, TBI’s and other disabilities, all of which greatly elevate suicidal ideation – many of whom had multiple suicide attempts before coming to us. Our staff works tirelessly 365 days a year to ensure veterans receive the world’s finest Service Dogs; and we train each dog to meet the exacting needs of every individual recipient – whether they suffer from PTS alone, or PTS along with another disorder (TBI, diabetes, seizure disorders, mobility issues, etc.). This also results in amazing relief to caregivers and breaking the cycle of intergenerational PTS in children of a disabled parent. Our dogs are trained with specific tasks to meet every challenge.
At Guardian Angels, we never leave a recipient behind. Once paired, not only have they made new friends often for the first time in years, but they now join our “family” of recipients in private social media groups. There they privately communicate with each other, sharing challenges, hopes and successes. Our specialized staff monitors the group and assists whenever needed. We employ “traveling trainers”, who visit them at least annually to be sure they are still working well. Our National Director of Recipient Relations has a master’s degree in Human Services and provides additional resources as needed. Once we pair a team, we reach out to them (at minimum) on a quarterly basis, for the life of the team to ensure their success at every level. We offer support in veterinary care, legal challenges, training and even direction with emergency housing, vet bills, and more. A major part of our success is our process of integrating and supporting the veteran’s journey back into society and finding his/her “new normal”.
Investing in Veterans:
The average cost to train and pair just one of our incredible dogs is over $25,000 and can take up to 2 years of training for each dog to be ready. Our program not only fully covers training and donating of the dog but includes covering all travel expenses for each recipient to our headquarters in Florida for two weeks, regardless of their location, for pairing.
Through exceptional effort, Guardian Angels has paired nearly 350 individually trained medical service dogs. Through our dogs, those recipients have gone on to return to work and/or school, repair broken bonds with family and friends, and begin a “New Normal” they had no longer believed possible. They’ve returned to seemingly simple things like going to the grocery store or the mall, which seemed an insurmountable challenge before their service dog arrived. Many recipients, under their doctor’s care, find themselves drastically reducing, and even eliminating their psychiatric medications.
We know the terrible nationwide results: 20-22 veterans each day are committing suicide, and the rate of divorce in combat veteran families can be up to 90% higher than the civilian divorce rate. These are statistics that must change, and we’ve proven they can.
After ten years of pairing and caring for these service dog teams, once paired, our suicide rate remains at ZERO, and our divorce rate is less than 2%.