VA funding of service dogs: a second look…

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Several blogs and Facebook pages cheered this week when then VA announced it would fund the costs of service dogs for veterans.  freedom-service-dogs-pkg-tr.jpg?w=1500Ostensibly, this was something to rave about. In reality,    there was little to celebrate and the impact on veterans most in need of canine assistance will not be impacted at this time.

The VA decided two years ago, decided to pay ay for costs only associated with a service dog, but only in cases of physical disability.  That means that dogs needed for mobility, hearing, sight would be covered.  Psychiatric issues, like PTSD, were not to be covered.because the VA felt there was not enough evidence to show that the dogs were efficacious.  Despite the wealth of information available to show that service dogs save lives and improve quality of life the VA started an  administratively bloated study to determine if dogs could make a difference in the lives of vets.

The news release this week made it seem like the VA had shifted position. They have not. The only new feature in their policy is that Truepanion insurance company will be paying four the care of dogs “eligible” according to existing regulations.

Currently to get a dog you must have recommendations from your treatment  team, an evaluation by the appropriate clinic (ortho, audiology…) and then go through the prosthetic department who must requisition the dog from Washington, DC.  In addition, the VA also requires you to attend and complete a training course with your dog through Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation.  Once completed, the VA will pay for the costs associated with veterinary care, travel associated with buying and training the dog, along with hardware required for the dog to be able to assist the veteran. Ordinary costs of care (food and such) are not covered.

In my case, I was certified by orthopedics and psychiatry for a dog and then send to prosthetics. They denied my request because I was not service connected for my mobility issues. If I were in need of a wheelchair, crutches, surgery or any other equipment for a non-service connected issue I would be eligible because I am 100% service disabled. But, dogs are excluded equipment. It is like a medication or appliance that is not yet in their inventory due to cost or other reason.

The need for PTSD dogs to help tens of thousands of vets with combat and non-combat related related stress has spawned dozens of new service dog agencies. But, only a handful of them will be eligible for for VA programs for two reasons:

1. The VA will require that the agencies training dogs have Assistance Dog International accredited trainers or other agencies they designate. Most of the new programs do not have these trainers on board. “Veterans who are paired with a PTSD service dog often rave about how it improves their condition. Yet, there has been controversy  over the expertise and professionalism of organizations that have emerged to serve the demand…” The VA is the source of controversy and in past studies has levied some very unrealistic expectations on even ADI established agencies. I know firsthand as I was originally to be part of the VA study program started in Tampa, Florida.

2. The service dog must have been provided at no cost to the veteran. If the agency requires the veteran to raise any of the funds needed the dog is not eligible for the program. Cash strapped non-profits doing good work whether ADI certified or not will not benefit from the program.

With the number of vets returned and returning from war zones with PTSD estimated at nearly 30% of those who served it is a problem the VA needs to be addressing sooner than later. The current study by the VA is scheduled to conclude in four years. How many soldier will have taken their own life by that time. The generosity of the private sector and reputable groups like Freedom Service Dogs (who trained Gander) and Patriot Paws will have to rely on the kindness of their donors to further their live saving missions until the VA answers the growing call for alternatives and adjuncts to debilitating drug therapies.

 

 

  

Comments

  1. Sue Redmond says

    Surely this is discrimination? PTSD is a hidden disability in terms of the general public, but is a very real disability for sufferers and their families, it’s impact on people’s lives is huge. The fact that the VA know about it and have documented it makes this all the more shameful. They should not be putting people through this maze of bureaucracy, they should in fact be making things easier.

    • admin says

      I’ll give some thought to this. The VA will stand behind this being a needed study. And congress may have a hard time with them. We need a bill to push them to act and fund this initiative.

      • sabrina baker says

        hi I need help I am NOT a veteran but I’m in severe need of having my dog trained to be my service dog I have extreme extreme socialize agoraphobia I have extreme fibromyalgia which makes my legs they have been numb for at least the last 4 years which they do give out at times and make me fall and make me lose my balance that’s not even considering the extreme muscle spasms that idea out of nowhere that at times it can make honestly I really want to leave the house I’m scared to leave the House alone I can always make one of my children’s coming with me because I’m afraid of what might happen so my diagnosis says severe fibromyalgia severe depression severe anxiety and panic attacks I need help I am on disability I already has my dog and I have done some training with him I have a trainer an excellent trainer which has done this befor I don’t know where to turn please I cannot afford that I am a single mother of three beautiful children and I’m having problems just getting school supplies

        please call me and no turn
        my name is Sabrina and my number is 484 426 4353 please I beg of you I’ve called local grocery stores to see if they would do a fundraiser I’ve called um someone told me to call the fire police
        please I beg of you I’ve even called churches please I have nowhere to turn and I cannot keep living my life like this there will be times. I won’t leave the house for weeks because I’m afraid because of my disabilities

        I don’t know you please call me I really appreciate your time thank you so much

  2. Cynthia Miller says

    It sickens me how the government & the VA come up with every excuse not to help our veterans. This all has gone on far too long. Without our veterans where would we be? To have men & women give their lives, so many come home with so many disabilities visual to ones eyes & some not visual to another yet they suffer just the same if not more. To say that ones disability far out weighs another’s is ridiculous & is just another way of cheating our servicemen & women what is their right to have so that they can continue to live a self sufficient life like everyone of them deserves to. Where is the compassion, the gratitude the help that is so needed for those that gave their all for us. My dad was in the Army Air Corps I went with him many times to the VA hospital here in North Chicago & I saw first hand how our servicemen were treated & at times not treated properly, the long waits, putting their care on hold, the excuses. My Uncle came home from World War II not the same as when he left. My husband lost a brother in Vietnam. I have seen my loved ones suffer because of not receiving what was their right to have after all that they had done for their Country. Shame on the VA, Shame on the Government & most of all Shame on us if we don’t try to do something about this. It’s time we speak up for those that have or feel they have lost their way & that there is no hope. They deserve all the help they can get & more.

  3. says

    Another ridiculous hurdle – don’t pay any attention to that curtain. Keep sleeping & watch more reality shows … good for you to sleep & not consider any real issues in the world!

  4. says

    I just wish we could come up with a way to ensure that a dog that is to be used as a service dog is properly trained and handled to be in public! My daughter has cerebral palsy and uses a power wheelchair, and just got her second (free) service dog from Canine Companions for Independence (they also serve veterans). What is ruining everything is people who “fake disabilities” or even people with true needs who do not have dogs that are properly trained and emotionally capable of behaving in public. We have had “fake service dogs” growl and lunge at my daughter’s dog. We have a friend who saw a “service dog” pee on a pile of six packs of coke and her handler just kept walking. I had one lady tell me that her dog was a “hearing dog” (even though she had no hearing impairment) because it barks when people come to the door. We need to join together and figure out how to make sure every one that legitimately can benefit from having a service dog (not a loving pet) can have one, but also ensure that the dogs behave professionally. It takes a very special dog to handle being a service dog. Whether specially bred or rescued, not every dog can do the job and stay calm. Help keep the dialog going at facebook page “stop service dog fraud”.

  5. El says

    I wish people could understand that one organization shouldn’t have the power to essentially prevent service dogs access because they are not certified with them. Sometimes, I worry that my dog will lose her access rights to the VA clinics and hospitals because a powerful organization can lobby for certain laws that benefit them. I would put my dog up against an ADI certified dog. She has her AKC CGC and her Advanced Community CGC. She will bring me most anything I drop, including a credit card, keys and paper. She brings me my phone. If she finds a utensil on the floor or a paper she thinks doesn’t belong, she brings that two. She will sit for two hours in a restaurant easily. I couldn’t function without her. Even if someone would give her certification. I can’t travel, so I am out. However, I have asked and I have not found one that would.

  6. Janice Ackerson says

    Where did you find that the VA will fund training for a service dog? And do you know of any other VA approved service dogs? We are having and have had quite a bit of trouble with the VA providing what they say they will for our VA approved dog.

      • Janice Ackerson says

        We did …they said it is not covered. thus my question about your site. Do you know of any other VA approved service dogs?

        • admin says

          Janice
          If I’m understanding you correctly:
          It’s the vet that needs qualified by virtue if his disability. It has to be mobility oriented, the dog needs to be donated and it has to have been trained by a certified trainer (ADI)

          • Janice Ackerson says

            Sorry,no. The vet is 100% service connect disabled and the dog is VA approved trained and continuing to be trained by a certified VA trainer. Still the training is not covered by prosthetics..thus the question where does it say The VA will pay for training?

      • admin says

        Drop me an email with some details and I can get it out on the network. Tell me a little bit more about what you guys do, how you do it and what it is you’re looking for in a client. Would love to get word out if you have them available.

    • says

      It’s my understanding that the VA/Military require service dogs come from an Assistance Dogs International certified program/trainer. Go to http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org to research.

      My daughter has gotten her service dogs from Canine Companions for Independence (www.cci.org). They have been around the longest, breed their own dogs, place truly professional SDs, provide ongoing support AND ARE FREE thanks to amazing donors and volunteers. They have an active Wounded Veterans program, and would like to help more vets get the top notch dogs they deserve (not all organizations/trainers/dogs are created equal- do your research!)

      Best of luck

      • admin says

        The VA does not require ADI certified dogs at this time. There is reasonable speculation that in the future they will require dogs that will be funded by the Veterans Administration to be trained via an ADI approved agency and those dogs will have to be given free of charge to the vets.
        I’m happy that you advocate for CCI. There are a lot of good agencies out there like Freedom Service Dogs that employ ADI certified trainers. I will be attending the ADI conference in Denver in a couple of weeks. Will you be there? Let’s meet for coffee.

        • says

          Sorry I was wrong. I guess I heard bases were requiring ADI ? Is that true? I spoke to a commander at Fort Belvoir near DC and he said the “fake service dog” issue was huge their because everyone wanted their family dog…

          • admin says

            They VA is working on a study now to determine efficacy. Part of the coming regs along with results will be a requirement for ADI trainer, trained dogs. I think there will be a huge backlash. The ADI dogs are incredible, but it will penalize self trained dogs of equal talent and groups that do the work at less cost.
            I am a HUGE fan BTW of CCI. I love their whole model. I have reached out to them on occasion and offered to assist in anything they might need, but have never heard back. They are a large organization with a lot to do…
            Thanks for chiming in….Hope I did not come off as hostile….
            My only displeasure is reserved for the VA for not expediting solutions. Vets need these dogs and they are dragging their feet. Their actions are likely financially motivated…

            Sigh

      • crystal winkler says

        Ok I have a question. If this is the stand point of the va then what are the vets to do? My husband is 27 and was blown up in the army. He fractured his skull and broke his back in three places, he now has seizures and pts along with other problems and is only on 80% disability. We have the dog he would Luke to get trained to be his service dog but we don’t know where to send him or anything else. We have done research with no luck. Please let me know where to go from here.

  7. CJ Nunya says

    I think this is crap! You don’t need a specially trained service dog for PTSD like you do for the blind or disabled! If a lab or labradodle helps with your PTSD then get the dog. You don’t need the VA to pay for it. The other problem with this is that anyone can then claim stress and be able to take there dogs into restaurants when the intent is to allow that only for the blind and people who can not get around physically without the dog.

    If you have PTSD and want to go into a restaurant, what you are going to melt down if you have to leave it for 30 minutes? GIve me a break.

    • admin says

      Interesting.
      You are the first person who has ever spoken negatively of the need.
      Of course, I disagree. Anyone with social anxiety disorder or anyone who is recovering from trauma would tell you how devastating public interactions can be. It’s ignorance of the magnitude of the disability and its discomfort, ignorance like yours, that make it worse.
      Gander does tasks other than PTSD but his interventions for me in public have a long way to returning me to some semblance of normalcy.
      He clears rooms, blocks me from perceived danger, grounds me when I am headed toward aggression or a panic attack…
      I’m not sure that you’re soneone I would ever like spending time with, but I’d happily let you do a “ride along” with me and G one day. That’s provided you agree to have an open mind –if even for a day.
      You sound like you could use a little love and care in your own life.

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