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Study: Service dogs ease PTSD symptoms for vets

Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who have service dogs experience less severe symptoms of PTSD and depression, improved relationships and less substance abuse, according to preliminary data from a Kaiser Permanente study.

Carla Green, the lead researcher of the Pairing Assistance-Dogs with Soldiers study, shared the early results of the yearlong study with legislators Tuesday at the Capitol. A service dog in training, Molly, attended the House veterans' services meeting.

The study, which began in January, is significant because no research is available on mental health impacts of service dogs on veterans, Green said. While veterans benefits cover service dogs for physical disabilities, they are not available for veterans with mental health needs.

The PAWS project will be used as supporting evidence to obtain federal funding for a larger clinical trial, Green said.

Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit picked up the initiative when Joys of Living Assistance Dogs was unable to obtain state funding for a study, Joys of Living board chairwoman Lori Sattenspiel said.

The hope is that if the clinical trial proves that service dogs are effective in improving the mental health of veterans with PTSD, their veterans benefits could begin to cover them.

So far, 75 veterans have participated in the study, which includes surveys and interviews of veterans who are wait-listed for service dogs and who currently have a service dog.

Anecdotes include reports of fewer nightmares, reduced need for medications, improved sense of security, decrease in anxiety and overall quality of life improvements for the veterans and their caregivers.

The study is set to be completed at the end of this month, and results are expected to be published in January.

Chris Hollett, 42, of Vancouver, Wash., suffered 13 years of panic attacks, nightmares and anxiety. He waited 21/2years before he got Chief, a golden retriever, in April through Paws Assisting Veterans.

Hollett said he served in combat for 38 consecutive months in Haiti, Bosnia and East Africa.

He has since gotten off his antipsychotic and antidepressant medications. He has reduced his therapy visits from once or twice a week to once a month. He is also able to get out of the house more easily, even being able to volunteer at his children's school.

"It's completely changed my quality of life," he said.

So far, good Samaritans and PetSmart have provided financial support for Chief, but considering the service dog has reduced Hollett's need for health care, he feels his veterans benefits should cover the costs.

"It's more cost effective," he said.

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