The study from insurer Kaiser Permanente, “Pairing Assistance-Dogs with Soldiers” (PAWS), also showed that service dogs helped improve veterans’ relationships and lowered their rates of substance abuse.
The study included 75 veterans, some of whom have service dogs and others who are currently on the waiting list. Each participant has completed surveys and interviews over a one-year period.
Although the study will not be completed until the end of this month, the participants have already reported many benefits from their service dogs. These include fewer nightmares, reduced need for medications, improved sense of security, decreased anxiety, and quality of life improvements for themselves and their caregivers.
One participant in particular suffered from 13 years of panic attacks, nightmares, and anxiety after 38 consecutive months in combat. He waited two and a half years to receive his service dog. Now, he has been able to stop his antipsychotic and antidepressant medication, reduce his therapy visits to once a month, and leave his house more easily.
Currently, veterans’ benefits only cover service dogs for physical disabilities. The researchers hope that this new evidence will eventually lead to benefits coverage for mental illness service dogs. The study results are expected to be published in January.
Service dogs can significantly reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression in veterans, according to the preliminary findings of a Kaiser Permanente study.
The dogs were also found to improve veterans’ relationships and lower their substance abuse.
Researcher Carla Green led the year-long “Pairing Assistance-Dogs with Soldiers” (PAWS) study and recently shared her findings with legislators at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“The study is significant because no research has been conducted on how service dogs affect the mental health of veterans,” Green said. Although benefits for veterans cover service dogs for physical disabilities, they are not available for help with mental health problems.