• Ryan Geddes with his service dog Yogi. (SBS)
Service dogs are aiding veterans and emergency service personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in new support program.
Kirsty Johansen

14 Feb - 8:53 PM 

Ryan Geddes served in the second combat engineer regiment in Afghanistan on two deployments.

His job was to provide mobility support, including patrols and searches for IEDs.

But it wasn't until he returned to Australia in 2013 and joined the reserves that the toll of service kicked in.

The 30-year-old says he would have never survived without his furry friend Yogi, after being diagnosed with PTSD.

“I'd be dead by now. He actually bit me once hard enough to bleed to let go of a knife,” said Mr Geddes.

The symptoms became so difficult it was hard for Ryan to leave the house and eventually a relationship he was in ended.

But Ryan said the Soldier On K9 support pilot program, which provides dogs to help veterans transition back into the community, changed his life.

Ryan Geddes with his dog Yogi.

He was trained as a dog handler before he trained Yogi to become a service dog.

“If my brain's going to flip out with TBI stuff where I like break down and get lost and don't know where I am, I can tell Yogi to take me outside or take me to the car and he'll direct me from the shopping centre and he'll guide me all the way back to the car,” said Mr Geddes.

Soldier On National Services director Rob Marshall said the new initiative aimed to assist veterans experiencing anxiety, hypervigilance, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or a physical disability to reconnect with the community and reduce the use of medications.

“You might need a dog to go in and clear a room. You might need a dog to help you calm down or to notice when you're getting upset,” said Mr Marshall.

“But it is really about tailoring the dog to people's individual needs.”

Service dogs are being used to help veterans adjust back into the community.

Professor Zachary Steel , chair of Trauma and Mental Health at St John of God Health Care, said more than 20 per cent of people in high deployment occupations would acquire a psychological injury as part of their work.

“When you leave the service, that's where we get the real problems emerging, and that's often when the support services have dropped off and that's why we are seeing just these extraordinary rates,” Professor Steel said.

“We've had close to 300 suicides of Australian Defence Force personnel that have served since 2001.

That's much more than deaths in the field.”

The program has kicked off in Canberra and Sydney with up to eight veterans taking part before it is rolled out across the country.

The program will work alongside veterans' psychological treatment.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, 1800 Respect on 1800 737 732, and Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380.

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