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The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

MEDIA RELEASE

30 May 2018

Assistance dog trial to help tackle veteran mental health

The Federal Government is putting veterans first with an innovative trial of assistance dogs for veterans.

La Trobe University in Victoria will partner with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) in conducting a $2 million trial of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) assistance dogs for veterans, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester announced today.

“I am pleased to announce that DVA has engaged La Trobe University, in partnership with the Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia, to undertake the trial of assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD as a supplement to clinical treatment,” Mr Chester said.

“La Trobe is a leader in research involving our best friend and is the home to Australia’s first dedicated human-dog interaction laboratory. Dogs are great company, good fun, loyal friends and anyone who has had a dog knows they can be incredibly beneficial for your wellbeing.

“The trial will be a considered process that takes into account the specific needs of the participating veteran - such as determining the most appropriate breed and temperament of dog, and the bonding process between the dog and participant.”

Mr Chester said work would commence on the detailed design phase of the trial, including the process for veteran recruitment. Selection of participants will commence early in 2019, with dog or puppy selection taking place after that.

“Following the matching and suitability process, there will be a period of approximately 18 months for the initial dog training and the bonding process, prior to the placement of the dog with the participant on a permanent basis. It is expected that up to 20 participants will take part in the trial,” Mr Chester said.

“Unlike pet or companion dogs, assistance dogs are specially trained to perform ‘tasks’ that contribute to the clinical recovery goals of the individual. The assistance dog will be integrated as part of a clinical care plan involving the veteran and their mental health clinician.

“Of course, throughout this trial, the welfare and safety of the veterans and of the dogs will be paramount.”

La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Keith Nugent said that the University, in consultation with DVA, veteran mental health and industry experts, will establish and apply best practice protocols to guide the training, selection and monitoring of participants and assistance dogs.

“This world-first approach to assisting people with PTSD will see our researchers working alongside industry experts in assistance-dog training. Our students and staff will also play an integral role in this process. We expect this project to make a meaningful difference to the lives of our veterans,” Professor Nugent said.

Mr Chester said the assistance dog trial was just one of the new initiatives to strengthen the Turnbull Government’s commitment to veterans’ mental health and wellbeing.

“This trial involving DVA and La Trobe University will include consultation and the active participation of veterans through the design and delivery of this program.

“We are putting veterans and their families at the centre of everything we do, and this trial is an important tool in our efforts to support those who have served our nation in uniform.”

ENDS

Tassie the assistance dog

The Hon Darren Chester MP with Tassie the assistance dog

The Hon Darren Chester MP with Tassie the assistance dog

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Whil Prendergast: 0427 672 815
DVA Media: 02 6289 6466
Office of the Hon. Darren Chester MP, Canberra.

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). VVCS is a service founded by Vietnam veterans.