With well over a decade of consistent overseas military deployment to active combat zones in and around the Middle East, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of disabled American veterans. We here at My Assistance Dog, Inc. would like to take this opportunity to thank our nation’s military personnel and their families for their service and sacrifices.
We also want to cover the important topic of getting an assistance dog through the VA as a disabled veteran. The US Department of Veterans Affairs does help many physically disabled veterans acquire and keep trained guide or service dogs, with eligibility determined on a case-by-case basis.
Does the VA Provide Assistance Dogs?
The agency does not actually provide guide or service dogs to veterans. The dogs are acquired through unaffiliated assistance dog providers. The VA issues referrals to guide dog training organizations or service dog providers accredited by Assistance Dogs International. Approved veterans do not pay for the dog or training. In addition, the VA pays for the dog’s veterinary care and necessary equipment (like a harness or backpack).
Does the VA Pay for Everything?
No. The VA covers initial costs of acquiring the assistance dog, as well as veterinary care and equipment. The agency doesn’t pay for food, treats, supplies, toys, parasite control, boarding, grooming, over-the-counter medications or supplements, or other routine expenses.
Veterinary visits, prescribed medications, medical procedures, and one dental procedure performed under sedation per year are covered. Assistance dogs should be current on all vaccinations upon acquisition, but subsequent vaccinations are also covered. Prescribed food for special dietary needs may be covered; such cases are reviewed on an individual basis.
What About Veterans with PTSD?
As of this writing, the VA only provides guide dogs for blind or visually impaired veterans and service dogs for physically disabled veterans; it does not offer help with psychiatric service dogs or emotional support animals, or any animals for mental health problems.
The VA speaks positively about general benefits of the human-pet relationship (assistance dogs are not considered pets, but rather working animals). But, the official agency position is that it doesn’t believe there is currently enough clinical evidence to establish benefits of assistance dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to help with acquiring and caring for one for this purpose.
However, the VA began a study on the benefits of service dogs for PTSD in early 2015. Researchers are tracking over 200 veterans with PTSD over a three-year period. When the study concludes in 2018, it will hopefully show undeniable benefits of psychiatric service dogs and prompt the VA to change its position on these animals.
How Do Disabled Veterans Apply for a Guide or Service Dog?
As with getting any medical service through the VA, veterans begin the application process by filling out the Veterans Online Application. They can also begin the application process in person at the health administration enrollment department at a local VA medical center.
Referral to a specialist is issued to determine the veteran’s need for any medical devices, the category that includes assistance dogs. The individual’s ability to benefit from an assistance dog and to properly care for the dog are evaluated. If approved, the veteran is referred to approved providers.
Who Are Some Assistance Dog Providers for Veterans?
Here at My Assistance Dog, we do not endorse individual assistance dog providers. We encourage everyone to seek out Assistance Dog International members (a requisite for any service dog referral from the VA), and we stress the importance of due diligence when choosing a provider.
The organization Vets Adopt Pets has compiled a list of assistance dog providers specifically serving veterans. It has done some research into these providers, but also cautions that it’s always important to do your own investigation when choosing. This list is simply a convenient starting point:
- America’s Vet Dogs
- Canine Companions for Independence
- Canines for Service
- Freedom Service Dogs
- K9s for Warriors
- New Horizons Service Dogs (FL only)
- Patriot Paws Service Dogs
- Paws for Purple Hearts
- Paws for Vets (VA, WV, OH, PA, MD, NC, SC, GA, and FL only)
- Sam Simon Foundation (CA only)
- Service Dog Project (New England area only)
- Smoky Mountain Service Dogs
- Warrior Canine Connection
This article's photo is from the US Department of Veteran Affairs website.