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Sean Kendall

VA Study Asks: Can Service Dogs Help Veterans with PTSD?


Posted on Apr 06, 2018

Roughly 11-20% of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans, 12% of Gulf War veterans, and 15% of Vietnam War veterans have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). Among those, many are men and women who suffer from PTSD secondary to Military Sexual Trauma (“MST”).

While PTSD can be life-threatening, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”) often fails to effectively diagnose and treat affected veterans. However, the VA recently decided to study one uniquely promising therapy option: service dogs.

Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine Study Reveals Service Dogs Significantly Improve the Lives of Veterans with PTSD

One study, which was led by Maggie O’Haire of the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, revealed that service dogs can do wonders for veterans with PTSD. Veterans who participated in the study reported less depression and anxiety, “higher levels of life satisfaction,” and increased willingness to “leave their house and go engage with society in different activities.”

Better yet, service-dog training programs, such as K9s for Warriors, often work with dogs from shelters. So, in the end, both the lives of the veterans and the lives of the dogs are significantly improved. K9s for Warriors’ website boasts that the organization has rescued 850 dogs and 418 warriors.

Currently, the VA Does Not Cover the Cost of Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

With so many benefits, it seems clear that service dogs should be made available to all veterans with PTSD. However, at $22,000 per dog, which covers the cost of the dog and her or his training, many veterans will remain unable to access service dogs unless the VA steps in and covers the cost.

While the VA has covered the cost of service dogs for veterans with physical disabilities, it is hesitant to extend the same coverage to veterans with PTSD without engaging in further research.

New VA Study is the First Step Towards VA Funding for PTSD Service Dogs

The VA’s new $12 million study is the first step towards approving the use of VA funds to provide service dogs for veterans with PTSD.

According to the Washington Post, the study will provide 220 subjects with service dogs. Among other things, the dogs are trained to “’block’ the space between their owner and another person,” “wake [veterans] from nightmares,” and soothe veterans who are experiencing panic attacks.

While some worry that veterans may become overly reliant on their dogs, Roy Diamond, chief executive of K9s for Warriors has a pointed response: “There are worse crutches, and VA is handing out a lot of them — like prescription drugs and opioids.”

Results are expected in 2019.

VA Provides Disability Benefits for Veterans with PTSD

If you are a veteran with service-connected PTSD, you are likely entitled to disability benefits through the VA. I encourage you to apply right away – after all, you served, and you absolutely deserve your benefits.

If you receive a denial or an unacceptable rating decision from your Regional Office, we are here to help. With decades of experience working with veterans with PTSD, include MST-related PTSD, we are confident we can win you the benefits you deserve. When you are ready to appeal, send us a note or give us a call at (877) 629-1712.

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