Connecting in a Time of Isolation

June 18, 2020

By Kevin Lambert, Program Development Administrator

When Covid-19 hit, we knew that connecting with as many clients as possible was important, particularly the veterans with PTSD in our Trauma Assistance Dog (TAD) program.* NEADS Trainer Erin Wylie emailed each of our TAD clients individually to check in and offer any help we could. Katy Ostroff, Manager of Client Services, and I reached out by phone to our most recent graduates.

After several of these calls, it was apparent that the isolation and stresses of quarantine, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing brought on by the pandemic was getting to them. After all, the goal of our program is ultimately to help the veteran reintegrate into his or her community, and here they were being forced to self-isolate and disconnect.

While we couldn’t get together with our veterans in person, we decided to offer Zoom meetings with the most recent graduates as well as the current TAD group.**

Our first Zoom meeting with the recent graduates was a huge help. We talked for over an hour, and we then went on to set up weekly and then bi-weekly calls. At the end of the most recent call, we decided we would schedule the next meeting when the group was ready. It was about a month later that one of them emailed us asking when the next scheduled Zoom meeting was – the group was ready.

Gus, one of the participants, said, “Getting Heidi from NEADS has been a blessing. She’s helped me navigate through life while watching each other’s 6. Even with this pandemic going on, I’ve still been able to connect with the NEADS staff about Heidi’s health and progress and our lives together thanks to the Zoom meetings.”

We also held a Zoom meeting with the current TAD class. The support was instrumental in helping them continue to not only deal with everything going on in the world, but also to ensure they were using their Service Dogs to assist with the transition and isolation. We started off talking weekly, shifted to bi-weekly, and are now meeting monthly.

Members of our Client Services and Training teams, as well as out mental health consultant attended all of these meetings. At times there were more of us than clients, but it was important we were all there, since follow-up meetings and ongoing assistance is an integral part of the TAD program.  It’s during trying times like these that it becomes quite clear just how important this support system can be.

Photo: Gus and Service Dog Heidi

* The Trauma Assistance Dog program (TAD) is designed for veterans with diagnosed service-related PTSD from trauma that occurred during active duty.

**TAD clients have regular meetings with NEADS staff during the first year of the program.