Online Program

Providing assistance to veterans with PTSD: Qualitative findings from the PAWS Pilot Study

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scott Stumbo, M.A., Center for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, OR
Bobbi Jo Yarborough, PsyD, Center for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, OR
Ashli Owen-Smith, PhD, SM, School of Public Health, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA
Micah Yarborough, M.A., Center for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, OR
Joy St. Peter, Joys of Living Assistance Dogs, Keizer, OR
Michelle Nelson, PhD, Business Department, Linfield College, McMinnville, OR
Bonita Bergin, EdD, Paws for Purple Hearts, Rohnert Park, CA
Carla Green, PhD, MPH, Center for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, OR
Background: Veterans with PTSD are increasingly turning to service dogs to manage mental health disabilities, but there is limited research documenting the services these dogs provide and their effects.

Methods: PAWS was a mixed-methods observational study. Participants were surveyed and completed in-depth interviews. As part of the study 20 veterans received dogs and were interviewed before and after placement. We also interviewed caregivers, observed training camps, and observed veterans using their dogs during daily activities.

Results: We enrolled 78 veterans (30.7% women, mean age=42.5) and seven caretakers. Veterans report service dogs assisted them by increasing community participation, reducing hypervigilance/nightmares, and improving mood/sleep. Dogs aided physical balance for some with physical disabilities, increasing mobility. Some veterans were able to reduce medications after receiving service dogs. Caregivers reported that service dogs relieved stress by increasing the veterans’ independence and willingness to engage with people/activities. Challenges of having a service dog included: intensity of initial training, time to bond with the dog and maximize use, and learning to use the dog effectively in public. Veterans with dogs offered insight on what might alleviate these challenges. Observations led to conclusions that readiness should be assessed in several dimensions prior to pairing veterans with dogs.

Conclusions: Service dogs benefit veterans with PTSD and their caretakers, but learning to work/live with a service dog can be challenging. Future research should determine who might benefit from a service dog and what contingencies need to be in place to get the most benefit from a service dog.

Learning Areas:

Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe patient-reported improvements in physical and psychiatric functioning in veterans with PTSD who have received service dogs compared with those who have not.

Keyword(s): Veterans' Health, Mental Health Treatment &Care

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have worked in health services research for more than 15 years. I participated in the conceptualization, design and implementation of the PAWS study. I have significant experience in qualitative research methods.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.