“As soon as one promises not to do something, it becomes the one thing above all others that one most wishes to do.”
― Georgette Heyer
The conventions for America’s two biggest political parties are over. Despite the fact that Honey Boo Boo and NFL Football brought in bigger audiences, tens of millions tuned in to cheer, jeer or better understand who to vote for in November. Both conventions made frequent reference to American veterans and spoke with passion about their care and concern for military families and especially for those injured in service to America. Despite all the bi-partisan passion and genuine intentions the VA is getting worse, not better, at handling the needs of veterans. Much needed transitional aids are mired down in bureaucracy or about to eliminated altogether by the VA. Intentions do not equal action.
This week, the VA announced in the Federal Register, via 60+ pages, that it will no longer cover the cost of service dogs assigned to people with post-traumatic stress disorder. The VA claims there is not enough evidence to support the medical need for these dogs.
“Although we do not disagree with some commenters’ subjective accounts that mental health service dogs have improved the quality of their lives, VA has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness,” the VA said. Anyone who has worked in the field knows this is a baseless assertion. The real reason for eliminating the dogs is likely financial.
The Federal Register estimated that only 100 dogs would be certified this year when every service dog group I contacted said that growing demand already outstrips available resources. Just at Ft. Carson’s Wounded Warrior Program, says Diane Vertec of Freedom Service Dogs, “The population is growing exponentially. We feel like a dog can help a vet meet physical challenges but, more importantly, can really, really help them overcome a lot of the mental instability that they’re feeling.” FSD trains about 40-45 dogs per year and there are about 450 soldiers in the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Fort Carson.
In the Stars and Stripes, Lindsey Stanek, the CEO of Paws and Stripes, a New Mexico-based nonprofit dedicated to providing service dogs for military veterans, said she finds the Federal Register’s conclusions “preposterous,” adding that the demand among veterans for service dogs far outweighs VA estimates. “We have a wait list that exceeds 600, and we’re just one organization.” The rules will stay in effect until the VA has a chance to study the efficacy of service dogs in PTSD. By then, after adding on the 12-18 months of waiting time for a trained dog, a vet might be 4-6 years into his disability.
I called the VA last week to get in under the wire and get Gander covered by the program. After unsuccessfully querying to seven departments at a local VA Hospital I phoned the national medical information help line at the VA. The VA suggested I call the hospital. I then contacted my PTSD doctor and scheduled and appointment. She has long supported my need for a dog and has seen it change other veteran’s lives. She placed an order for evaluation with the prosthetics department who then scheduled me to be evaluated by the physical therapy department. After my evaluation, in October, physical therapy will send my requirements for a dog to the prosthetics department who will then send it on to the VA in Washington, DC. The VA will decide whether or not I should have a dog. If approved, the prosthetics department will then “order” the dog I will already have by that time. This might all be moot anyway if the regulation goes into effect at the end of this month.
The VA does not pay for the dog, which Freedom Service Dogs spends $20-25,000 dollars to train. But, they will cover major medical issues for Gander. The hospital explains it like this: The dog is equipment and they don’t pay for routine maintenance, buy will repair “it” if it breaks. And if a vet’s heart is broken by the loss of his equipment?
So,there is no money. Veterans can train their own battle buddies, right? Not so. The VA also proposes to block non certified dogs admission to its facilities. Those dogs who have helped vets carry oxygen bottles, or detect seizures are equipment non-gratis in the hospital . No attempt was made by the legal beagles who drafted the document to provide for those veterans who depend on their companions and rarely leave home without them.
Illinois defines a Service Animal this way:
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as any guide, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability. An animal fitting this description is considered a service animal under the ADA regardless of whether the animal is licensed or certified by state or local government.” There are stiff fines for refusing service to a disabled person with a service animal regardless of its certification. The VA sees it differently.
To make matters worse: The Tampa VA has been working with several Assistance Dogs of America certified trainers and providing some cash to agencies if they will participate in a multi-year study program. The VA has foisted several unrealistic expectations on trainers like requiring them to sign documents stating their dogs will not misbehave during their placements. Some trainers are considering opting out of the study because the VA has also tried to micromanage their programs.
Jonathan Swift said that promises and pie-crust are made to be broken. I say that if politicians push veterans out on the front lines of their re-election battles, the least they can do is turn intentions into fulfilled promises.
Help them here:
I have put up petition at Change.org Please sign
You can read more about m journey to get a service dog here: http://veterantraveler.com/service-dog