THE BLOG

Armed Forces Veterans Need Mayor's Help Accessing Life-Changing PTSD Dogs

08/03/2017 15:47 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 15:48 GMT

Latest figures show there are an estimated 5,360 armed forces veterans in London suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The amount of help available to these men and women, many of whom have put their lives on the line for their country, can be lacking, with many unable to access the support they need.

Here at City Hall, the Mayor and the London Assembly has signed up to a covenant pledging to do all they can to support vulnerable armed forces veterans after they are discharged.

It was with interest then that I discovered the work of Veterans with Dogs, a charity that provides highly trained assistance dogs that specifically work with people suffering from PTSD.

I met up with Richard Mearns, a former Army medic who served in the Iraq War medic who has been living with the devastating effects of the illness since before 2009.

Until last year the impact of the illness on his life was tremendous. He would suffer night terrors several times a night and suffering such severe anxiety he was unable to leave the house.

The father-of-one lost his previous job and admits he found himself in a very dark place.

Since the introduction of assistance dog Ziggy though, his life has been turned around.

The incredible Labrador wakes him up during night terrors, reducing their occurrence to just once or twice a month, and is trained to sense when Richard is feeling anxious, distracting him by nibbling his hand or leading him to a quieter area. The added confidence Ziggy has given him has allowed Richard to gain full-time employment and safely navigate the daily commute to work.

The impact of these incredible animals is huge to someone like Richard. Unfortunately though the dogs do not come cheap.

It costs Veterans with Dogs £11,000 to train a puppy like Ziggy, as well as further costs to provide CBT-style training to the owner.

Due to the high demand and the fact the charity relies solely on donations, it is dealing with a long waiting list.

Having witnessed the incredible work carried out by this charity, and seeing the obvious need for additional help among PTSD sufferers in London, I compiled a report called 'Paws for Support'.

In it I have spelled out how the Mayor could kick-start a project that would enable increased access to these incredible working dogs for many of London's most vulnerable veterans.

A loan scheme of £1.1million from the GLA Reserve Fund - a small portion of the giant pot available - would enable 100 PTSD sufferers to get access to a dog like Ziggy.

Interest-free repayments of £91 a month over ten years would make these life-changing support animals greatly more accessible.

Should the pilot be a success, the Mayor could then use his influence to attract corporate sponsorship to expand the scheme.

There are many difficult decisions the Mayor has to make with regards to allocating cash - but providing life-changing help to armed forces veterans at no cost to the public purse seems to me like a no-brainer.

Following a successful launch of my report and a subsequent show of interest from Sadiq Khan, I will now be pushing the Mayor to kick off this pilot loan scheme.

There are thousands of brave men and women across London who are unable to access the help they need. We must do all we can to show we have their backs and this is a great place to start.