Companion and assistance dogs are regularly profiled in the media as being of benefit to people with mental health issues. DVA has received a number of requests from veterans seeking our assistance with funding for purchasing, training or supporting the upkeep of companion and assistance dogs. Often, these requests indicate that the dog is being regarded as part of treatment for conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression.
DVA acknowledges that a dog can help people feel better by lifting their mood and providing companionship. Dogs can help reduce stress, help maintain exercise routines and connections with people in our local communities. However, the benefits gained from the owning and caring for a dog are different to the benefits that can be gained from effective treatment for mental health conditions.
There is a clear evidence base for the effectiveness of assistance dogs for people with sensory impairments such as hearing loss or loss of sight or mobility impairments due to conditions such as spinal or brain injuries. The provision of an assistance dog through the Rehabilitation Appliances Program (RAP) may be considered for veterans who have a DVA Health Card due to a war caused sensory or mobility impairment. RAP can be contacted by calling 133 254 (metro) or 1800 555 254 (country).
DVA utilises an evidence-based approach to treatment. There is a range of different types of treatment that have been shown to be effective in assisting veterans to recover from, and learn to manage, symptoms of mental health conditions such as PTSD, social and generalised anxiety and depression. More information on mental health conditions and their symptoms, as well as effective treatment for these conditions can be found on the DVA At Ease Portal.
There is currently no research based evidence about the effectiveness of dogs in assisting with the management of symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression. DVA is aware that the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs is currently conducting a study into the advisability of using assistance dogs for the treatment or rehabilitation of veterans with mental health conditions that are related to their service. The results are expected in 2018.
Until sound evidence exists, DVA will not provide funding for the purchase, training, transport or upkeep of dogs to assist with the management of symptoms of mental health conditions including PTSD, anxiety or depression.