Mental Health: How Can a Psychiatric Service Dog Assist a Veteran?

May 19, 2017

By Jill Londagin
Many behavioral health providers, including those working for the Veterans Health Administration, ask, “How can a psychiatric service dog (PSD) assist a veteran with mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?” Some common symptoms of PTSD are anger and irritability; startle responses to sudden noises or movements; social withdrawal; sleep disturbance and nightmares.

A psychiatric service dog can be trained to perform tasks for the benefit of the veteran and assist in decreasing the veteran’s symptoms. These tasks include accompanying the veteran to public places to reduce social isolation; helping the veteran remain calm in crowded areas by being a barrier between people and the veteran to prevent startle responses; waking the veteran during a nightmare; reminding the veteran when it is time to take prescription medication.

Behavioral health providers are often asked to write a letter to a service dog organization on behalf of the veteran to recommend a PSD as a part of the treatment plan. Some of the most important things to keep in mind: Is the veteran capable of caring for a service dog? What symptoms are we trying to decrease and can a service dog complete these tasks? Will a service dog be a good addition along with continued therapy? The answer to these questions can change the treatment plan of a servicemember. Consult with your behavioral health provider to see if the use of a psychiatric service dog is an option for you.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect an official position of the US Army or Department of Defense.