Dolphins and dogs may help soldiers with PTSD decrease heart disease risk

According to, Veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be at an increased risk for heart disease and early death.

“[PTSD] is a disorder that occurs after a life-threatening event, such as personal assault, natural disaster, or military combat…affects can be debilitating with symptoms ranging from severe nightmares and flashbacks to insomnia and increasing social isolation,” explains the PTSD Support reference section on

But perhaps a common misconception  is that veterans who suffer from PTSD only experience mental anguish, anxiety, and depression.  “The disorder may damage blood vessels and increase the risk of dying early,” however, reported after the latest meeting of the American Heart Association.

Just as alarming as the flashbacks and nightmares may be the reported increased risk of heart disease.  “If a vet has PTSD, they need to be under surveillance for cardiovascular disease as they age,” notes Joseph Boscarino in the recent CNN article, an expert on the association between stress and physical manifestations of illness.  According to research, veterans with PTSD tend to have more calcium build-up in their arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition of the arteries that has been connected to heart attacks.

The study yielded surprising results.  Of the nearly 300,000 veterans studied, those with PTSD were more than twice as likely to die during the course of the 10-year study.  Specifically, just fewer than 30% of the PTSD diagnosed veterans died during the study, whereas just 8% of the non-PTSD veterans passed during that same time frame.
Non-conventional treatments have been gaining popularity: Dolphins and puppy’s have been used to help soldiers cope with stress.  Check out the CNN video report below entitled, Dolphins help veterans overcome PTSD stress. Such unconventional methods may be successful because stress is known to be a contributing factor to heart disease.

Dolphins are great, but we can’t skip this story about man’s best friend, entitled, Puppies helping veterans.

For an explanation on the treatment options for PTSD, that information is available to vets via the PTSD guides located on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website.  According to them, “Cognitive behavioral therapy” is a suggested treatment option.

What can veterans do to combat the physical risks of PTSD?  Since heart disease has been indirectly linked to PTSD, vets should understand the risk factors  that can be controlled.  The American Heart Association suggests the following for limiting heart attack and stroke risks:
         Avoid tobacco
         Eat complex carbohydrates, avoid trans fat
         Maintain a healthy BMI – (check your BMI here, courtesy of the Department of Health and Human Services)
         Do not drink alcohol excessively
VA Benefits Eligibility: explains, “[e]ligibility for most VA benefits is based on discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions.”  Whether a vet is entitled to benefits is something he or should may consider speaking to a lawyer who specializes Veteran Benefits filing.  For more information in the meantime, you can view the “Veteran’s Benefits FAQ” provided by   

Image: Bill Longshaw /

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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