VA Study on Service Dogs and PTSD is Under Fire

Posted on Jul 26, 2016

The VA wants to know if using service dogs to help those vets suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is really helping them and whether or not it is worth the expense. To try to answer these questions the VA is in the middle of a multi-year study, but some veterans’ advocates are questioning the study and even believe that the study has been set up to fail so the VA won’t have to pay the bills for the service dogs.

For more than a decade now, the VA has paid the veterinary bills for service dogs helping vets with physical disabilities at a cost of $1.4 million a year. In 2010, Congress authorized the VA to look at alternate treatments for PTSD including the use of service dogs as therapeutic treatment for the condition. The VA is authorized only to pay for “evidence-based” therapies, so whether or not companion animals can continue being used to help ease the symptoms of PTSD will depend on the results of this $12 million study. More than 350,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are suffering from PTSD according to VA estimates.

ABC News reports that “four years in, that research has been plagued by problems. Only about 50 dogs have been placed with veterans, and critics question whether the protocol itself is flawed — with the dogs being trained to do things that could reinforce fears. Others worry the animals could become a substitute for the hard work that comes with therapy.”

“In November, the Kaiser Permanente Northwest Center for Health Research released the results of a study involving 78 veterans with PTSD”, ABS News says. “It found that those with animals had better overall mental health, less substance abuse and higher ratings on their interpersonal relationships. Researchers said, however, that ‘differences cannot be directly attributed to service dogs’ and that more study is needed.”

The report goes on to say, “U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis recently introduced a bill that would take $10 million from the VA's budget to immediately begin pairing service dogs with post-9/11 veterans for whom traditional PTSD treatments hadn't worked. During a subcommittee hearing, Rory Diamond, executive director of the group K9s for Warriors, said the VA had fumbled its study, and that veterans can't afford to wait.”

Despite the criticism, the VA's study, set to conclude in 2018, is moving along toward a goal of eventually including 220 veterans.

 

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Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska