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Veterans have a new ally to help treat PTSD: Florida's colleges and universities

Florida’s universities and colleges will be able to provide alternative therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries for veterans through a federal contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed the bill allowing the partnership while appearing at the University of South Florida. [AMANDA ZHOU | Times]
Published Jun. 26

TAMPA — When Army Staff Sgt. Brian Anderson returned home after tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, he tried a variety of therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder.

One treatment came in the form of a shaggy golden retriever named Hero.

"He helped me through a lot of tough times coming home," Anderson said.

The 37-year-old Green Beret said he lost five friends in combat over a span of six months.

He wasn't ready to make the transition back to civilian life when he returned for good following his 2011 deployment.

After Anderson received the service dog, Hero followed him everywhere for three years.

Hero is no ordinary dog. As a service animal, Hero was trained to act as a physical barrier between Anderson and people in crowded situations.

If someone comes up behind Anderson, Hero gives him a nudge to let him know, so that Anderson doesn't feel like he's about to be attacked.

Service dogs like Hero are one example of the alternative therapies for PTSD and traumatic brain injuries that Florida's universities and colleges will be able to provide through a federal contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed the bill allowing the partnership while appearing at the University of South Florida.

It was passed unanimously by the Florida House and Senate, and includes other alternative treatments such as equine therapy, music therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and accelerated resolution therapy, a form of psychotherapy.

Anderson and several legislators attended the signing.

The therapies are funded through a separate health care appropriation of $200,000 awarded to USF, said state Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, who helped spearhead the bill.

Offering alternative therapies marks a departure from using drugs as a sole treatment for PTSD, DeSantis said.

The bill also opens the door to research the effectiveness of some of those treatments, said USF health professor Kevin Kip, who studies alternative therapies.

In recent years, dozens of non-profits have popped up around the country offering everything from acupuncture to yoga to martial arts for veterans.

However, there has been little standardized evaluation of how effective those therapies are, he said.

"It's about as fragmented as you could possibly make it," Kip said.

Afterward the signing, the blue permanent pens used to sign the bill into law were distributed among the politicians.

Anderson gave his pen to Hero, who held it in his mouth.

Contact Amanda Zhou at azhou@tampabay.com. Follow @amondozhou.

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