There are over 18.8 million veterans of the United States of America's Armed Forces. After military service veterans may find it difficult transitioning back to civilian life. Veterans reintegrating may experience physical and psychological challenges related to their military service. For many, a successful role change takes considerable time and determination. In order to ease their transition, veterans are using the assistance of service dogs to aid in symptom management and assist with positive reintegration into civilian life. Service dogs are highly trained animals that help individuals perform life tasks to assist with physical and psychological challenges. The purpose of this qualitative study was to give voice to the experiential viewpoints of veterans who utilize service dogs. Guided by the theoretically informed method of interpretation— interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA)—the researchers uncovered the veterans’ perspectives, which provided meaningful insight into their lives with a service dog. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with veterans (n = 21) who utilized a service dog. The interviews lasted approximately one hour and were video or audio recorded. The most salient themes that emerged from the interviews were grouped into four superordinate themes: Procurement, psychosocial functioning, value, and detriments. Results suggest that service dogs improved veterans’ physical and psychological health, provided a coping resource and a form of social support, and supported sustaining their independence. Veterans’ right to privacy and the public's lack of knowledge and understanding of legal accommodation requirements via the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were perceptible. Implications for policy, practice, and research, are discussed.
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