It's Time for the VA to Approve Service Dogs as a Treatment Option

K9s for Warriors' end goal is to give all veterans access to Service Dogs if they choose. (Image: Courtesy of K9s for Warriors)
K9s for Warriors' end goal is to give all veterans access to Service Dogs if they choose. (Image: Courtesy of K9s for Warriors)

Rory Diamond is the CEO of K9s for Warriors.

This month, which is National PTSD Awareness Month, K9s for Warriors published a study with Purdue University researchers in the prestigious Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology showing that Service Dogs ameliorate the symptoms associated with PTSD in American veterans.

This study is a breakthrough in PTSD research. For the first time, there is physiological evidence that Service Dogs affect and improve the brain chemistry of those suffering through PTSD. As the military and veteran audience likely knows, those symptoms include debilitating anxiety, night terrors, fear of public places, and more.

This study resulted from a research partnership between K9s For Warriors and Purdue University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Leading the project was Dr. Maggie O'Haire, and the OHAIRE lab dedicated to studying the human-animal bond. Researches used mouth swabs to measure cortisol levels of K9s For Warriors graduates with a Service Dog, and those on a waitlist to receive a Service Dog (the control group). Comparing these two groups' cortisol levels revealed new scientific evidence that Service Dogs work. We now have data that our Service Dogs:

  • Reduce clinical PTSD symptoms
  • Reduce anger & anxiety
  • Improve psychological & physiological well-being
  • Improve abilities to participate in social activities
  • Lower levels of depression
  • Increase life satisfaction

What does all this look like in real life? Veterans reunite with their families. They go to their kids' sports games and music recitals. They re-enter the workforce. They graduate from college and pursue more education. They plan date nights with their significant others again. They can go to concerts, amusement parks, and even the grocery store by themselves. Most importantly, Service Dogs are dramatically reducing our graduates' suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation.

We've witnessed incredible transformations like these every day since we began this organization in 2011. But the Department of Veterans Affairs - the establishment charged with taking care of our veterans after service -- has repeatedly denied the efficacy of Service Dogs. Instead, they've prescribed piles of pills to thousands of veterans to treat their PTSD, often creating more problems and rarely leading to reduction of symptoms.

With this new study, there are no more excuses: we proved Service Dogs work, and they work far better than conventional treatment.

K9s For Warriors' end goal is to give all veterans access to Service Dogs if they choose. Not only are we partnering for this and more research, but we've also created the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, so other, similar organizations will benefit from the data. Ultimately, we're pushing the VA to accept this research, and consequently implement Service Dogs into standard PTSD treatment. Our warriors deserve that much and more.

Although K9s For Warriors is the nation's largest service dog provider for post-9/11 veterans, the demand far outweighs what we and other nonprofits can supply. With this data, and a forthcoming additional study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), we'll be even closer to healing PTSD in every American hero.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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