Veterans transitioning from isolation to integration: a look at veteran/service dog partnerships
Background: This study explored the dynamics of veteran/service dog partnerships by gathering the perspectives of veterans with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury.
Methods: Exploratory qualitative methods (focus groups and individual interviews) were used to investigate veteran/service dog relationships related to community involvement, family and friend relationships, self-care, work, and leisure. Nine male veterans, Paws, and Stripes program graduates participated. Data were audio recorded and transcribed by two research team members who used qualitative analytic software to manage and code the data. The full research team discussed themes and reached consensus on the themes that emerged from analysis.
Results: Five themes emerged about the perceived benefit of veteran/service dog relationship: Secluded but Seeking Society (moving from isolation to reconnection); Opening Opportunities (navigating daily life); Bridging the Gap (facilitating social opportunities); and Reclaiming Life (transforming sense of worth and purpose). An overarching theme, Calming Catalyst, connected the other four themes.
Conclusions: Veterans in this study reported that their goal was to reclaim and develop key aspects of their lives and they perceived service dogs as a support in their transition from isolation to reintegration. This study found that service dogs supported the veterans to meet their goal.
- Implications for rehabilitation
There are a significant number of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury who are facing life challenges including self-care, securing work, participating in leisure activities, and integrating into the community.
Service dogs are an emerging intervention used to assist veterans with reintegration into civilian life.
There is a need for professionals to be aware of potential benefits of service dog/veteran partnerships.
Based on our findings, veterans could benefit from being paired with a service dog to facilitate their successful return to community life.
Terry K. Crowe, Victoria Sánchez, Alyse Howard, Brenna Western & Stephanie Barger (2018) Veterans transitioning from isolation to integration: a look at veteran/service dog partnerships, Disability and Rehabilitation, 40:24, 2953-2961, DOI: 10.1080/09638288.2017.1363301