Methods: The aim of this qualitative study was to elucidate the impact of service dogs on health outcomes for a US veteran population. Service dogs are trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability and can help to assist with tasks needed for daily functioning. This presentation reports the breadth and depth of service dogs for service connected conditions (e.g. PTSD and TBI). In-depth interviews were conducted with veterans (N = 21) and analyzed using interpretive phenomenological analysis. The interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Atlas.ti software was used to explore, interconnect, and organize the data in-depth for the presence of reemerging content and meaning. Five superordinate themes emerged from the thematic analysis: Procurement of service dog, psychosocial functioning before service dog, impact of service dog, importance of service dog to veterans’ health and reintegration, and issues.
Results: Factors that were related to obtaining a service dog after military service were connected to the symptomology and sequela associated with invisible wounds such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and TBI. The impact of utilizing a service dog was found to reduce the symptomology associated with invisible wounds, provided psychosocial support, served as a protective mechanism against suicidal ideation and substance use. The service dog also allowed some veterans to reduce or cease psychotropic medications used for depression and anxiety, improving health outcomes and perceived quality of life.
Conclusion: The results substantiated the positive impact on health promotion and clinical outcomes that service dogs provide for veterans; a call to action for change in public policy is needed regarding service dogs as a reimbursable medical expense for invisible wounds.