Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder swear that service dogs lead to remarkable improvements, but research has yet to support their widespread use. Meanwhile a Tampa VA hospital just suspended the major study on the question, over concerns for the health of the dogs.
When it comes to treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, no intervention regularly receives as glowing reviews as service dogs. The use of service dogs to treat PTSD is new, though, and many of the findings at this point are anecdotal. Many veterans had eagerly hoped a pioneering study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs would buttress their personal experiences with science that could support implementing widespread therapeutic use.
By pairing veterans with a service dog and tracking their condition over three years, the study could demonstrate to service dog providers around the country how to effectively train for PTSD patients, and might provide convincing evidence for the VA system to create a benefit for the treatment.
Last week, however, the agency confirmed that it had suspended the study at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, FL, for the second time this year after alleging that a vendor violated its contract and endangered the health of its dogs. The latest setback left about 100 veterans on the study's waiting list without any hope that they'd receive a dog in the near future. It also raised the thorny question of how to conduct research in a field that is new, but where the need is urgent.
Traditionally used for blind, deaf, or physically disabled patients, service dogs have only recently been trained to perform tasks that can improve PTSD symptoms, like wake a veteran from a nightmare or create a buffer in large crowds or public places.