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Service dogs for wounded warriors

Ms. Debbie Taylor, a volunteer with Fidos For Freedom, shows her service dog, Mr. Scott, to members of the 779th Aeromedical Staging Facility (ASF).  The ASF is participating in a study to examine the impact of animal assisted therapy in reducing stress on wounded warriors. (Photo by Capt. Melissa Simpson, 779th Aerospace Medicine Squadron).

Ms. Debbie Taylor, a volunteer with Fidos For Freedom, shows her service dog, Mr. Scott, to members of the 779th Aeromedical Staging Facility (ASF). The ASF is participating in a study to examine the impact of animal assisted therapy in reducing stress on wounded warriors. (Photo by Capt. Melissa Simpson, 779th Aerospace Medicine Squadron).

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Wounded warriors passing through the 779th Medical Group, Aeromedical Staging Facility (ASF), have the opportunity to participate in a study that examines their stress level and the impact of animal assisted therapy in reducing stress as they transit the aeromedical system. The ASF serves as the CONUS distribution hub for all branches of the military, dependents, retirees, and deployers returning home.

"This really is a landmark study. There have been no studies published examining the stress levels of our patients as they move through the En Route Care System. The study creates a foundation of knowledge that can be further refined to improve the quality of care given," said Capt. Melissa Simpson, ASF Flight Chief and Associate Investigator.

Over a decade of conflict has resulted in high rates of post-traumatic stress symptoms in our wounded warrior population. A team of nurse researchers from the National Capitol Region has been awarded funding by the TriService Nursing Research Program to conduct a study examining the effects of stress on active duty members, traveling from Ramstein Air Base, Germany to Joint Base Andrews, Md.

Phase one of this two-part study was completed on June 30, 2015. During Phase I, thirty-six active duty members were asked to complete a series of questionnaires and submit saliva samples to establish a baseline stress indicator scale. Results showed that aeromedical patients measured approximately thirteen percent higher than the average stress level.

In Phase II, participants have one, 20-minute visit, with a certified therapy dog and its handler to determine the impact the dog has on reducing stress. The ASF has partnered with Fidos For Freedom, a local non-profit organization, to provide service dogs for the animal assisted intervention. Research has shown that the use of dogs can positively increase health and well-being to include decreased anxiety. Phase II is projected to run from October 2015 through May 2016.

"Imagine how the patients feel? They have significant injuries and illnesses, and have just flown across the ocean and crossed multiple time zones. They are undoubtedly exhausted and stressed.  Now they have the opportunity to interact with a service dog, and that's got to help.  We expect this study to show scientifically that this is actually the case," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Egerstrom, 779th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Commander.

"I am excited to have this research study be conducted in our facility. It has been so well received that funding was expanded to include research of permanent-party and deployed ASF staff members.  Our long term goal is to use the results of the study as leverage for a full-time facility dog," said Egerstrom.

If you would like more information on the Working Dogs for Wounded Warriors study please contact the Principal Investigator:  Lt. Col. Jennifer Hatzfeld at jennifer.j.hatzfeld.mil@mail.mil, Associate Investigators:  Capt. Melissa Simpson at melissa.c.simpson4.mil@mail.mil or Staff Sgt. Holly Mason at holly.j.mason.mil@mail.mil.