SASKATOON -- Before meeting Raven a year ago, Paul de Groot he had a difficult time meeting people and going outdoors as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I can do stuff that I couldn't do before. That I didn't want to do before. I stayed inside. She's given me that freedom. She's broken that darkness and it took me out of the dark and brought me back into the light."

de Groot, a retired army veteran, is now taking part in a national research project focusing on how service dogs like Raven can aid soldiers suffering from PTSD and substance abuse.

"Service dogs bring you that piece of mind, they get you back outside," said de Groot. "They get you back to interacting with people again, your family members. You've got your buddy back. In the military we had a buddy system, your fire buddy, you watch his back, he watches yours. That's how this is."

Five veterans are working with service dogs in the research project with a goal of up to 30 in the long term.

The project led by the University of Saskatchewan has received funding from five other universities and a dozen community organizations.

"When we're talking about PTSD, substance use is a really important component of that," said Colleen Dell, the research chair from the U of S.

"They do the technical side of things such as waking up a veteran out of a nightmare, if they're having a flashback or what have you. That's what the dogs allow us to do. By putting them and the veterans and the centre of the research, we ask different questions and that's what we need to do."

de Groot said he hopes service dog programs can significantly help veterans across the country.