For more than 100 years, RSLWA has walked alongside veterans and their families in Western Australia to support them whenever they need a hand.
Now for the first time in its history, RSLWA is introducing a new program to train man’s best friend to walk alongside veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Psychiatric Assistance Dog Pilot Program is the first of its kind in WA, which will see RSLWA partner four veterans with trained assistance dogs to improve their mental health outcomes.
Research conducted by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs shows when veterans are partnered with assistance dogs they have less stress, anxiety, PTSD symptoms, depression, anger and insomnia. They were also more likely to experience less isolation and self-judgement, and improve their self-compassion
The program has been made possible thanks to a State Government grant of $430,000 from the ANZAC Day Trust.
Canine carers will undergo 12 months of training through Kaizen K9, a Perth-based business with 25 years' experience instructing police and military dogs. The course will teach the dogs behavioural traits, and how best to care for their companion.
Once paired with a pet, the veteran's wellbeing will be monitored through monthly evaluations conducted by consulting psychiatrist Dr Richard Magtengaard over a one-year period.
RSLWA chief executive Vince Connelly said the pilot program will build a capability which does not currently exist in WA.
"We are beyond excited about the program, and so grateful that we have this opportunity which will improve the lives of veterans in WA experiencing mental health challenges," he said.
Minister for Veterans Issues Paul Papalia said military personnel made a wide range of sacrifices to protect our country, and the impacts of that service could continue long after a veteran's career has ended.
"Psychiatric assistance dogs have proven benefits for people who confront military-related trauma such as PTSD,” he said.
"Establishing a local provider will make assistance dogs more accessible for WA veterans as they won't be forced to rely on programs based in the eastern states.
"As a veteran myself, I'm proud to be part of the Labor Government which is establishing a program that could improve the lives of so many veterans in our State."