Role of Hospitals: VA Southern Nevada Health Care System

Dog and handler next to a blue bus

Officer Lincoln Sims has been with VA Southern Nevada Health Care for over a decade, but he’s about to take on a new job – and a new partner. Sims, a Marine Corps veteran, will be the first K-9 handler at the veterans’ health center.

Sims and his four-legged partner will undergo 240 hours of training, mainly developing skills in sniffing out illegal narcotics; they will also be trained on searching for people who have gone missing. Sims’s new role is an integral part of combating substance use disorder among veterans.

The VA estimates that more than 20% of veterans with PTSD also have substance use disorder, and one out of every three veterans who seek help for SUD also have PTSD. Research shows that combat exposure, risk of injury, chronic pain and a wide range of behavioral health problems put our country’s heroes at an increased risk of drug or alcohol addiction.

What makes the program unique is that it not only serves to prevent substance misuse, but serendipitously, it is improving relationships between police and veterans at risk of substance misuse, and creating a friendly atmosphere for prevention and treatment. “It’s not about making an arrest or confiscating illegal narcotics; it’s about making a difference,” Sims told the VASNHS newsletter in July. “I know when I have a bad day, I light up when my own dog greets me and acts like it’s been 100 years since she’s seen me. Many of our veterans feel the same way when seeing a K-9 make the rounds with the handler.”

Resources on the Role of Hospitals