Pandemic puts training service dogs for veterans on hold

Published: May. 25, 2020 at 2:13 PM EDT
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This Memorial Day we honor those who have served our country. But the COVID-19 pandemic is posing new challenges to our nation's veterans, especially those battling mental health issues.

On a farm in rural Virginia, United States Navy veteran Danique Masingill and her team train service dogs for veterans.

"We custom train the specific triggers for each veteran," Masingill said.

The program, Leashes of Valor, aims to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, something Masingill struggles with, as well.

"For me it took a long time to get all the pieces into place. It was rough and there's still crappy days, honestly, like, but that never goes away," Masingill said. "You just kind of learn how to ride the wave better."

But Leashes of Valor had to put their program on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We've suspended mental health treatment in a way for people that don't know when this tool they're waiting for is going to be available to them," Masingill said.

A new Syracuse University/Military Times poll of more than 4,000 veterans and active service members finds many are worried about the pandemic. They consider COVID-19 a severe threat to public health, the economy, their communities and families.

"Things like a job loss, loss of financial security, in being disconnected and socially isolated, these are all risk factors that only compound and accumulate, you know, in terms of someone's mental health," said Nick Armstrong, and Army veteran who authored the report.

Syracuse University plans to continue polling veterans throughout the pandemic to try to ensure they get the resources they need.

Masingill is concerned about the potential setbacks for her fellow veterans.

"People aren't looking for a handout," she said. "They're really just trying to be a part of something, and this currently is preventing them with being a part of something."

She's hoping to be able to do her part soon, getting more service dogs to veterans once restrictions are lifted.