Service dogs-in-training have been proven to help sick children, people with disabilities and the elderly. George Mason University has teamed with non-profit Veterans Moving Forward to help veteran students on the Virginia campus through the therapeutic power of animal companionship.
“Karen (Jeffries) walks around with the dogs, and for the students, it’s very calming,” described George Mason’s Office of Military Services Director Jennifer Connors. A 14-year military service woman and current reservist, Connors has a unique appreciation for those she serves.
“Military bases and college campus are fundamentally very similar – housing, dining hall, health services, counseling center,” said Connors. “The major difference is that in the military, you are told what to do. That transition is the hard part. Veteran students now have everything at their fingertips, and that can be overwhelming.”
George Mason’s office of military service began as a place where students could get help paying their tuition with benefits and working through the bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration. In the past two years, it has turned into much more. With Connors’ leadership, the office has become a physical place, located in the GMU student union, with areas for one-on-one counseling, tutoring, and computers with secure access specifically for reservists.
“There was a need for a sense of community,” said Connors. “For undergraduate students, that community comes very naturally. Our office helps create that for veteran students.”
Along with admissions support, the office offers networking and resume help, through employers like Deloitte, and as of two weeks ago, additional emotional support through some furry faces.
Veterans Moving Forward (VMF) provides service and therapy dogs to veterans with physical and mental health challenges. For students, Connors said the dogs help students during high-stress times, like midterms. VMF and GMU hope to bring the dogs on campus one to two times a week.
In a news release for the University, Jeffries said that the dogs “are actually very good at picking up vibes from people. Frequently, a therapy dog will gravitate to the person in the room who is hurting the most.”
VMF begins training their dogs while they are still puppies. Through interaction with trainers and veterans, VMF determines if a dog is better suited to be a therapy or service dog and if the dog works better with men or women.
According to Jeffries, most therapy dogs are fully trained by the time they are 1 year old, and most service dogs are ready at 2 and a half years old.
In a report on the employment situation of veterans produced by the Institute of Veterans and Military Families, the unemployment rate for American veterans, as of August, was 6.6%; however, for younger veterans, post-9/11 veterans, the rate is much higher at 19%. For non-veterans in that same age range, the rate is 13.8%.
–Alanna Stage, @AlannaTweets