The National Defense Authorization Act of FY2010, charged the Department of Veterans Affairs withconducting a research study to assess the benefits of providing service dogs to Veterans with mentalhealth conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).The health and well-being of Veterans, their families, and service dogs involved in the research study
remain VA’s high
est priority.The study began in late June 2011 with three organizations (vendors) under contract to provide trainedservice dogs. After service dogs bit the children of two different Veterans in the study, newVeteran/service dog pairings were suspended in January 2012 to add additional protections for Veteransin the study and add tighter vendor communication requirements in the contract. The 12 Veteransalready paired with a dog continued in the study without delay. After a review of the biting incidents,no further dog orders were placed with two of the organizations.New pairings resumed with the third vendor in early July 2012, bringing the total active pairings to16. An unannounced site visit of that vendor in late July found dogs in poor physical condition, zoonoticparasite contamination of the grounds, inadequate veterinary oversight and treatment, salmonellacontamination in a pooled fecal sample, and other significant contract violations. To protect the healthof Veterans and their families, new pairings were again suspended, and that contract wasterminated. The health of the dogs paired in July was rechecked to ensure that parasites andsalmonella infections were not threatening those Veterans or their families.Given the difficulties we have experienced, we will continue to move forward cautiously and withdeliberation. The health and safety of the Veterans who volunteer to participate in the study willcontinue to be our primary concern.
VA’s experience with uneven dog health
and behavior practices has resulted in VA creating, in depth, itsown contract standards. This process is well underway and the contracting process is expected becompleted in August 2013, thus providing additional service dogs for the study. Also, new approvalsmust be obtained from human and animal oversight committees, and thereafter new pairings can beginagain, likely in late Fall 2013. The Veterans already paired with a service dog continue in the studywithout interruption.Veterans will remain in the study for up to two (2) full years after they are paired with a dog. It is notknown how many Veterans will be approved for the study by the Institutional Review Board oversightcommittee, but the data collection phase of the study will end after the last Veteran completes thestudy. Thereafter, data analysis can begin, ending in scientific peer review and a published manuscriptreporting the results.
VA will then determine based on scientific evidence if changes in VA’s service dog
benefit standard are warranted.This study is required because there is a lack of clinical evidence to support a finding of mental healthservice dog efficacy. In contrast, VA's shared national experience and as part of the findings fromresearch studies has been to directly observe positive clinical outcomes related to the use of servicedogs and increased mobility and independent completion of activities for veterans with visual, hearing,and mobility impairments.
VA’s observations are bolstered by the existence of
nationally-established, widely-accepted trainingprotocols for such dogs that enable the dogs to perform a variety of tasks directly related to mitigating