Joel Nicholson started his military career with the U.S. Marine Corps in 1993. He later joined the National Guard in 2006 and was activated in 2008 with the 56th Stryker Brigade to deploy to Iraq. He spent much of his deployment patrolling route Michigan in between Fallujah and Baghdad.

After leaving the service in 2009, Joel noticed he was depressed, had severe memory loss and was relying too much on alcohol to self-medicate. That’s when he checked in to a PTSD Residential Rehabilitation Program in West Virginia where a VA doctor recommended he get a service dog.

“It was like night and day for me when Adonis entered my life,” Joel said.

Currently, VA only approves service and guide dogs for blind and deaf patients, but that could change.

A VA study on how service dogs and emotional support dogs might help Veterans with PTSD has been restarted. Veterans in the study are already being paired with a service dog.

You can visit the Clinical Trials website for contact information at each participating VAMC.

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Published on Apr. 28, 2015

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Views to date: 276


  1. Darque May 17, 2015 at 8:13 am

    I have a service dog that is literally one of my caregivers. Like yourself, I didn’t wait for anyone to approve the dog, I researched, bought the dog, spent the time & money to train him – including obtaining his licenses, registrations, fees & insurance. The dog is now a fully registered service animal with all of his proper credentials. I’m so lucky to have found this dog a few years ago before I went through MAJOR life-changing events – I could NEVER afford that now because I live on a strictly budgeted life care & healthcare income. This dog is a VERY important part of my continuing battle on the road to some sort of recovery & I simply cannot imagine my life without my big teddy bear (150# Rottweiler). Not only is he a caregiver, he is a protector.

    That all being said, How can advocates assist in this project? Perhaps by blogging & sharing the information. I can’t do much, but I’d like to help in some small way. I didn’t see any sharing options on this piece, but I set up a tweet using the headline & website address, for a start. Wishing you all the best… Please keep us informed

  2. Tammy E Guerrero May 13, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    I have a service dog, I’m 70% disabled, from 22 years of service. My dog has made my life livable. So glad I didn’t wait for the VA to approve it. I spent 18 months training the dog to do things that I needed to be more social. The dog helps me sleep better.

  3. D J May 11, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    My husband is basiclly bedridden. He has PTSD, demintia and TBI. He was very close to his dog when he was still at home. Now he is in a military facility and they will not allow his dog in his room or in the building, just outside. I believe he would really benifit from having his dog lay on his bed with him. But I was told no.

  4. James Forest May 8, 2015 at 11:14 am

    I worked at a hospital that had a Pet Therapy program and the amount of smiles and laughter these pets caused the elderly and the young cannot be measured. Dogs and cats have an inherent innocence and sweetness about them. Veterans would absolutely value having a pet at home with them as they age, and not just veterans that are deaf or blind, but ones that could use the emotional support. They’re wonderful animals.

  5. Anita Gallier May 5, 2015 at 1:43 am

    im a femAle veteran that was diagnosed with PTSD and MST…I’ve been looking for a dog to help with panic attacks and going out in public. I would love to have a dog that will let me go out in public with my daughter that is 9 months without freaking out.

    Thank you

  6. k.w May 3, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    I wish my husband could get one…his PTSD seizures are no fun and I think it would do him good and would give him a little bit more control and I would worry less

  7. Michael A Walker May 3, 2015 at 11:55 am

    I would love to participate in this program. I am a Vietnam Veteran with a SC PTSD diagnosis. I volunteer at the LB VA MC in the Veterans Services Office and should be accredited as a NSO within the next 90 days. I work with Veterans all the time and many if not most suffer from PTSD and/or TBI. I have a small pit bull that I am taking through training to become a service dog. She will be my personal care dog but I will have her in my office at the LB VA MC always. She will not only be helping me, but she will be helping all who come into my office for help as well. I believe we could provide quite a bit of data for you in this research.

  8. David Hendrickson May 3, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Now if you will only expand this to my VAMC in Amarillo, I would the guy parked in front of your desk waiting to sign up.

    Funny you chose Portland as Northwest Battle Buddies is just across the river in Battle Ground. They already run a service dog training group.

  9. Craig S Hill May 2, 2015 at 9:43 am

    I have been trying to get a service dog for years, everything i have heard and seen, i know the benefits would make life somewhat good again. it is so hard to get one for ptsd. I truly believe that they would save a lot of lives and for me make my day to day struggles seem okay! maybe even help me sleep (wont be so terrified to sleep due to nightmares, like now haven’t slept in 4 nights), because they can be trained to wake you from those dreams! I truly hope the VA does this for us… start with the worst cases 90-100% PTSD

  10. Ryan Donkersley April 30, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Shoot veterans have been working in this field for a long time. I am already directing a documentary on it and working on getting it completed. DOGTAGGED: A Documentary on veterans with PTSD and their service dogs. Feel free to watch the short version here. it is working I just got mine finally and Hero means the world to me. I can sit and just focus on him when I am having issues

  11. Summer April 30, 2015 at 10:53 am

    My husband is an army vet, was deployed in Iraq. I got him an English springle spaniel as a baby and trained him for him as an emotional support dog. He now has 2 emotional support dogs that have been recognized by the VA as such. These dogs have changed his life. He has PTSD and was admitted for 10 days because of it.His doctor wrote a letter stating that these animals are his emotional support dogs. His life has changed dramatically for the better and doesn’t need meds at this point. He couldn’t leave the house now we travel to Europe with the ESA’s. I advise everyone to get a dog, they help so much!

  12. chris taylor April 30, 2015 at 9:59 am

    I like to know what I need too do to get one of these dogs.

  13. Andrea Doolittle April 30, 2015 at 3:18 am

    Everyone interested in participating should contact the program coordinator. It does say that you must be willing to attend pairing and training sessions in one of those cities. Never hurts to ask for more information if you meet the criteria and can travel to those cities.

  14. Ronnie April 30, 2015 at 12:16 am

    No doubt my dogs helped me. They loved and needed me when no one else wanted me around. I beleive they are the only reason I’m still around

  15. William Kerker April 30, 2015 at 12:00 am

    How do I participate? I live in Green Bay WI and attend the VA outpatient clinic here. I’m being treated for AODA and PTSD issues. My wife and I have a single family home with a large yard and are both physically active. We currently have 3 socially adjusted cats.

    William D. Kerker

  16. Karen Alexander April 29, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    I’ve been using a Service Dog (SD) for 20 years. Have one retired and one tow years old who just finished with training. You need to watch your wording. Emotional Support Dogs do NOT have the same public access rights as a SD. I’m an owner trainer. I have a great trainer who give me private lessons for disability unique tasks. My VA, Gulf Coast Veterans Administration hasn’t shown any interest in helping those of us who use a SD. They don’t mess with me…yet. When Assistance dogs International who won the SD contract for the VA finally come on board, all owner trainers will have problems.

  17. Barry A. Rice April 29, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    I don’t live in the areas shown, however I been using Service Dogs for over 20 years. More then that, I have had dogs since months of my return form RVN. The dogs consistent love even before I head to go to a Service Dog was the only thing that would could and did help me move toward a progressive state. Easing out of the PTSD standard to a more relaxed state. When I became more physically disabled, I retrained my then Shutshun trained dog to a Service Dog. The last two actually saved my life when falls where happening to often. Since then I have trained and certified three dogs for my own needs. There is no smarter doctor then a well trained dog and a owner that understands them. Although age has crept up in my life. I would love to assist in helping these most intelligent dogs to provide the personal interaction all veterans need to have to survive the internal torment war has brought to us. USMC 68-69

  18. Anita Meyer April 29, 2015 at 11:51 am

    I had a service dog who would bark if I got up at night sleep walking during flashbacks. She would also lick my face if I was distracted by flashbacks during the day. I don’t know how she knew but it would bring me back to the Now. She taught me how to remain calm. (Wisconsin) kept me from needing VA services for more than 9 years.

  19. Chris Colegrove April 29, 2015 at 11:06 am

    To bad this didn’t come out before, I just purchased my new service dog that now I have to find a good place to help me train her.

  20. Betty Greer April 29, 2015 at 10:16 am

    I’m treated at the Asheville NC hospital. I really could use a comfort dog. I’m 90% disabled with 70%ptsd. Is there any way to expand the volunteer area?

  21. David Hendrickson April 29, 2015 at 10:12 am

    So why not expand it to a few other VAMC’s?

    Amarillo would be nice (hint, hint).

    I am putting in for a service dog for my PTSD.

    Under ADA regs PTSD is allowed a service dog, yet the VA cant make up its mind on what it wants to do.

  22. danae flood April 29, 2015 at 10:04 am

    i have been a volunteer for 9 years with a therapy dog at VAMC northport,ny. I find my dog brings calm and emotional support to the veterans. i applaud this program!!! I only wish there were more trained dogs to go around.

  23. Gina April 29, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Any plans to do a study like this in Pittsburgh PA??

  24. Alexander Butterfield April 29, 2015 at 8:31 am

    I returned from Iraq Late March 2005. I have PTSD, TBI, and many other issues. Last April my rescue dog I got two weeks after I got home passed away. Very quickly after that my PTSD was worse the ever, I couldn’t sleep without my “battle buddy” to watch my back. By August my wife and I knew it was time for another dog and wanted one that could be trained to protect my family and me as well as become a service dog for me. We got an 8 week old German Shepherd and have spent a lot of money getting her trained. My health has taken a slide over the last couple months and she has always been there to support me and be a goofball. I need more money to finish the training but couldn’t live without my four legged friend.

  25. Vickie Lykins April 29, 2015 at 4:27 am

    I’m 100% permanent and total. Both myself and my husband haveptsd and met. My life is pretty miserable and I feel a service dog would help both of us. We need relief.

  26. Sharon Newby April 29, 2015 at 4:27 am

    I’m interested in receiving a service dog. I am 100% service connected disabled. Thanks! Kentucky VA.

  27. David P Goodall April 29, 2015 at 1:47 am

    As a Vietnma vet, I struggled for years with mental and emotional issues. After a failed suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with suicidal depression in 1984. In those days, people were not diagnosed with PTSD. I accepted that diagnosis and struggled for over 25 years to keep my life under control without much success. After my diagnosis, I realized how much of my life had been damaged by that one fact. Since then I have often wondered if a service dog would help me function. I would willingly participate in a program and believe the results would prove beneficial to hundreds of vets who struggle each day to have a life. How do I volunteer?

  28. Carole Dianne Kiley April 29, 2015 at 1:41 am

    I have PTSD from MST. That’s Military Sexual Trauma (rape). My nightmares and flashbacks are horrendous. I have a 3 year old Sheltie girl that I got at 4 weeks old. She is so in tuned to me and comforts me during and after my “episodes.” She also alerts me when my blood sugar is too high so I will go check my sugars and they are high, so I take my insulin and she goes and lays back down. She also licks my face and whines to wake me in the night if I am having low blood sugars. She has only been trained by me to have good manners. Why won’t the VA let me bring her with me to my appointments? Having to walk through the waiting room creeps me out and more often than not, I end up having anxiety and/or panic attacks. How do I get her certified as an emotional support service animal or a medical alert animal so she can be with me at my appointments? By the way…please don’t ask a woman veteran for her phone number or ask her out for dinner. We don’t go to the VA trolling for dates.

  29. Angelo C. Sanfilippo April 28, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    i think a service dog would be great but don’t want to ask

  30. Thurston Goracke April 28, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    I’ve had my SD Roxy for close to a year now, and she has been nothing but a blessing. I especially appreciate her when I have to go shopping or be amongst huge crowds of people.

  31. Salvador Fuentes April 28, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    I know service Dog work because trained my service dogs and we have start our own business training service dog and ESA, for other veterans and disability people. Facebook us Hero’s for our Hero’s. Follow my story.

  32. Cynthia Mahlin April 28, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    My husband, a Navy Vietnam veteran, has PTSD and congestive heart failure. He passed away in late 2011. In 2008, he bonded with Sadie, a cocker spaniel-poodle. I adopted her and she decided to be his companion.

  33. Ronald Gamber April 28, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    I have seizure’s and so does my dog TBI.Tiffany has one eye with broken socket and occasionally has minor seizures. I had brain bleed aneurism partial onset grand mail strokes coma depression but getting better.

  34. jackie April 28, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    My boyfriend and I are both DISABLED VETS we live in the St. Louis area. We bought a black lab and are training her to become a service companion for us. We would love to be in the study.

  35. Kimberly A Sims April 28, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    How do you find out about this program? My son really needs a Service dog! He went to Afghanistan and is suffering from severe depression, PTSD and is having truble with clostrophobia, being around alot of people at once, a hair trigger temper, and other issues. I know there are many other veterans that could also use this program! And tthere.are MANY shelters that could get trained to become a service dog with the proper training!! I think a dog would do a world of good for my son!! Along with many other veterans! please, if anyone could let me know how I can get in touch with someone about getting him a I would greatly appreciate it! He served in the Army for 3 yrs, and was in Afghanistan for 8 months , infantry. Saw many of his men killed or dismembered right beside him.

  36. Richard McConnell April 28, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    How can I volunteer

  37. Wendy Vaughan April 28, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    I am a PTSD vet who would love to participate, but I would rather have a small dog as a lap dog. I am nervous of larger dogs.

  38. Ellen E. Watson April 28, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    I have my cats Freedom and Liberty! I love them very much.

  39. Sandra Demoruelle April 28, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    For the past 9 years, our service dog, B.D., has allowed my 100% s-c PTSD husband to do some traveling with me, as well as live more comfortably day to day. We have self-trained him and he meets USDA standards to come and go from Hawaii to the mainland as a service dog. He remains active and alert at almost 14 y.o. – probably because of the love and care we have given him out of appreciation for the great job he does – and his excellent manners! He lives up to his label – “Best Dog” and we could not love him more!! We treasure every day with him and only wish we could go on like this forever.

    Despite the fact the dog goes to the VA psych visits with my husband, the VHA never really have acknowledged the role BD plays in “normalizing,” and even enhancing, our lives. I can only say – this is a long-needed study (since everything is now decided on “empirical evidence”), and may help many more Veterans and their families enjoy the benefits our service dog has provided to us.

  40. Diane freel April 28, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    I would like to see a study about how many veterans that believe their own dog has helped husband has a dog we got in 2007 she has become trained by us to see when his blood sugars are low or feeling stressed.

  41. TIMOTHY HOOEY April 28, 2015 at 1:08 pm


  42. Vickie Pratt April 28, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    I’m a 100 percent PTSD, 40 percent spinal injury, and 20 percent right knee injury. I wish this was here in Clovis, California, because of the PTSD I am home bound due to fear, intense fear. I only leave the security of my home for food and doctors appointments. I believe a service dog would help me! As I would be responsible for walking the dog, which might get me out side daily. Plus the company would be nice!

  43. Daisy A Negron April 28, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    I’ll like to try it. I’m training my puppy Rottweiler to have him certified as service dog for my ptsd. How can I be part of the study of his still not certified.
    I’m currently taking different types of Therapy. We are bonded .

  44. Renee Mishku April 28, 2015 at 11:51 am

    How do you apply?

    • Anita Meyer April 29, 2015 at 11:42 am

      Go to the clinical trial website. It’s a link in the article.

  45. Elizabeth Lusignan April 28, 2015 at 11:49 am

    USMC veteran in Massachusetts would love to be part of this program!!! Please contact me if there is some way for me to get involved!?!

  46. Brandon Whipple April 28, 2015 at 11:44 am

    I agree with Michael I am from Michigan and would love to participate in this program .,

  47. Sonny Reeves April 28, 2015 at 11:38 am

    I have ptsd and had no relief until we got a rescue dog at the pound. Now I sleep better with the dog beside me and if I have problems during the day or nightmares the dog’s presence helps me cope. I would welcome being on the study. I am being treated in the South GA/North Fl region. At the St Mary’s VA Clinic. I am a marine Viet nam vet with combat service.

    I hope this helps vets and their dogs!

  48. DannyG April 28, 2015 at 11:28 am

    I have a service dog that I acquired & trained on my own. She means the world to me! I used to train dogs, so I got luckier than most. The one thing I need to point out is that not all service dogs have to be big; mine is a 13-lb shih tzu, & she is wonderful!

    • Lauren DelRicci April 29, 2015 at 3:49 am

      I have a 15lb shih tzu named Linus! He is my emotional support dog, like u said he’s just a little guy but he saves my life everyday. Whenever I bring him to the VA, everyone asks me to help them find their furever friend…and I’m at a loss bc like you I trained Linus myself from puppyhood…but this is a great start for VA so hats off

  49. Michael beaver April 28, 2015 at 10:57 am

    To bad this is not in more states. I am 70& PTSD. I am 90& plus 10& unemployable. So I am 100&. I live alone in tool Texas.

    • rebecca z April 28, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      I know SD’s or ESA’s help. I trained my own dog for SD work, mostly for mobility assistance but also for some other things but they do wonders!

    • Dawn Brown May 11, 2015 at 11:14 pm

      I am a female vet 60% with severe PTSD, depression and anxiety. I really need a service dog. I live in Battle Creek, MI. I am desperate. Can ANYONE help me??

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