For some inexplicable reason, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) has a “thing” about service dogs. Despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that service or companion dogs help Veterans, the VA insists on studying this issue still further. SFTT wishes the VA had taken the same level of precaution in prescribing OxyContin for Veterans with PTSD.
Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD and/or TBI
A companion service dog program appears to provide comfort and support to Veterans with the symptoms of PTSD, including depression, nightmares and social anxiety. Service dogs are trained to anticipate anxiety attacks and nightmares.
How Does it Work?
After the dogs reach maturity – normally 6 months – they begin an intensive 5 month training program designed to familiarize the service dog with elements of supporting a human being. For instance, the dog has to learn to navigate elevators and escalators and to respond to potential danger signals which could cause panic in the dog’s human companion.
A well-trained service dog is not distracted by peripheral events like the presence of other dogs or animals and will avoid eating food that has been dropped on the floor.
After the service dog has successfully completed his training, the certified service dog is then introduced to his/her human companion. In general, Veterans will spend seven weeks in intensive – about 4 hours of training a day (generally in the morning) and a few weekend sessions.
How Much Does a Service Dog Cost?
While many Veterans obtain a service dog free thanks to the generous contributions of others, a properly trained service dog costs approximately $10,000. To that cost must be added the opportunity cost of training with the service dog as well as upkeep and veterinary bills.
What is the VA’s Position on Service Dogs?
The VA provides service dogs for Veterans suffering from blindness and mental illness which limits their mobility. Nevertheless, the VA “does not provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions, including PTSD.”
The VA claims that “there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms.” An independent study is being conducted to determine the benefit of service dogs, but the results of this study are several years off.
Selected SFTT Posts on Service Dogs