Research: Volunteers needed: VA to study benefits of service dogs, emotional support dogs for Veterans

Joel Nicholson started his military career with the U.S. Marine Corps in 1993. He later joined the National Guard in 2006 and was activated in 2008 with the 56th Stryker Brigade to deploy to Iraq. He spent much of his deployment patrolling route Michigan in between Fallujah and Baghdad.

After leaving the service in 2009, Joel noticed he was depressed, had severe memory loss and was relying too much on alcohol to self-medicate. That’s when he checked in to a PTSD Residential Rehabilitation Program in West Virginia where a VA doctor recommended he get a service dog.

“It was like night and day for me when Adonis entered my life,” Joel said.

Currently, VA only approves service and guide dogs for blind and deaf patients, but that could change.

A VA study on how service dogs and emotional support dogs might help Veterans with PTSD has been restarted. Veterans in the study are already being paired with a service dog, but VA is looking for more research volunteers.

If you live in an area served by the Atlanta, Georiga, Iowa City, Iowa or Portland, Oregon VA Medical Centers and would like more information, please visit the Clinical Trials website for contact information at each VAMC.

Veterans who meet the eligibility criteria for the study will participate in the study for 3-6 months before receiving a dog. Each Veteran will be randomly assigned to receive either a service dog or an emotional support dog, and will participate for another 18 months in the study.

Comprehensive veterinary health and well-being insurance will be provided by VA for all dogs with no out-of-pocket expenses for Veterans, and a monthly stipend to cover other costs will also be provided. At the end of the study, ownership of the dog can be transferred from VA to the Veteran, if that is what the Veteran chooses. Thereafter, all expenses for the dog will be the responsibility of the Veteran.

Up to 220 Veterans may be enrolled in the study across all three participating VAMCs. The study is expected to require up to 4 years to complete.


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