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A much-anticipated Veterans Affairs Department study into the effectiveness of service dogs for treating post-traumatic stress disorder will restart in the coming months, with veterans receiving dog-care training in anticipation of being paired with an animal.
The study “Can Service Dogs Improve Activity and Quality of Life in Veterans With PTSD?” will include 220 veterans, half teamed with a dog trained to address their disability and half paired with an emotional support dog — basically, a pet or companion that has passed a rigorous obedience course, but is not specifically trained to perform tasks to mitigate PTSD.
The research aims to determine the impact of a service dog on the quality of life and activities of a veteran with PTSD compared with a common companion animal or pet.
The differences between the two are notable. Trained, well-bred service dogs can cost upward of $25,000, including purchase, training and care, and they are allowed by law to accompany their handlers in public spaces. And, depending on the study outcome, they might become an accepted treatment for PTSD covered by VA.
Emotional support dogs essentially are well-trained pets that provide comfort and support. They do not have the same public access as service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act, although they are offered some protections under the Fair Housing Act and on commercial airlines.
The 2010 Defense Authorization Act required VA to study the effectiveness of service dogs for treating PTSD. VA provides support and veterinary care for dogs for visual and hearing disabilities, as well as mobility impairments including traumatic brain injuries that cause seizures or affect a veteran’s ability to move or make decisions. But it does not cover service dogs for mental health disorders.
VA has partnered with several service dog organizations to pair veterans with PTSD with potential service dogs, but the veterans in these programs are working with dogs that are later trained as guide or service dogs for veterans with physical disabilities. VA has said there is not enough scientific evidence regarding their effectiveness for that purpose to warrant benefits coverage. And when it comes to PTSD, VA officials say they must use proven treatments.
While stories abound about veterans with PTSD and service dogs, few clinical studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of animals for PTSD. In April, a Texas State University researcher completed a small study on the topic that found PTSD symptoms were reduced by 22 percent in veterans who completed training their own psychiatric service dog through the program “Train A Dog Save A Warrior.”
According to graduate student Jeff Nelson, study participants completed the PTSD Checklist-Military Version, or PCL-M, a self-assessment of PTSD symptoms. Those who finished the program scored nearly 12 points lower — they had fewer symptoms — than those entering the program. Nelson acknowledged some limitations in the study. For example, it did not measure results against a control group or incorporate companion dogs. And because of time constraints, Nelson was not able to administer the PCL-M to the same participants before and after the training — a measure that he said would better reflect the effectiveness of the program. But, he said, the findings should nonetheless contribute to the somewhat scant clinical research.
“This is a good first step. Serious organizations are not going to give money for more research or programs without evidence of it being effective and, if it works, it hopefully will bring more people into the treatment,” Nelson said.
VA’s original study on the effectiveness of service dogs for PTSD was suspended in September 2012, amid concerns over the animals’ care at some facilities, as well as the dogs’ training. According to VA, 17 dogs were placed with veterans before the shutdown. Six participants have completed the study, six are still involved and five withdrew. Sixteen veterans still have their dogs; one dog was euthanized for health issues, spokeswoman Gina Jackson said. (Source: MilitaryTimes, Patricia Kime, May 12, 2014.)
On June 14, we celebrate Flag Day. This day provides us with the opportunity to fly our flags and to replace any that are so faded, worn or frayed as to no longer be respectful of what they represent. Once again, American Legion Mullins-Nickerson Post 108 is collecting unserviceable American and Colorado flags for proper retirement and disposal.
Flags in unserviceable condition should be disposed of with dignity. The American Legion provides this service and worn flags may be turned in between now and June 13 to any Legionnaire, or left at the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office in the courthouse, Pagosa Fire Protection District Station No. 1 at 191 N. Pagosa Blvd., or Vega Insurance and Financial Services at 818 Rosita St. Flags may also be brought to the Legion Hall on Hermosa Street on Saturday, June 14.
Retirement and disposal ceremonies are planned to follow the post’s U.S. 84 clean-up activities that morning, time to be announced. The public is welcome.
The office of Archuleta County Veterans Service Officer provides assistance to qualified military veterans, and their families, or a veteran’s survivors, in applying to and in obtaining U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs program assistance, benefits and claims. This assistance is provided within the guidelines, policies and procedures established by the Colorado Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. This is a mandated program of the State of Colorado.
For further information on VA benefits, call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office, located at the Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard.
The best way to contact me is to set up an appointment at home or in the office so I can schedule a specific time in order to answer and assist each veteran in Archuleta County.
I will be out of the office on the following days for regularly scheduled meetings:
The office number is 264-4013, fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-3590 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for completing applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to, and a copy for filing in the Archuleta County VSO office. If the office is closed, I am out assisting veterans; leave me a message and phone number to contact you.
The following veterans’ groups meet in Pagosa Springs: