The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) won’t cover costs to veterans for PTSD service dogs until more medical research proves that service dogs are beneficial to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues. The VA has also suspended a Congress-recommended three-year VA research study anticipated to conclude in 2014 with that proof.
More Medical Research Needed
There are plenty of heartfelt stories shared by veterans suffering the “invisible wounds of war” who have experienced profound changes in their lives thanks to their service dogs.
However, the VA is not convinced. The study “has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness. Until such a determination can be made, VA cannot justify providing benefits for mental health service dogs.”
PTSD Service Dog Study on Hold
However, the very study that could prove the benefits of service dogs has been suspended.
The 2010 Service Dog Veteran’s Act co-sponsored by Senators Al Franken and Johnny Isakson, established a three-year clinical trial to assess the therapeutic effects on up to 200 veterans matched with specially trained dogs. Only 17 dogs and veterans have been paired.
In its first year, three dog-training organizations were participating in the study at the James Haley Veterans Hospital, Tampa, Florida. Two dropped out – New Horizons Service Dogs of Orange City, Florida, and Freedom Service Dogs of Englewood, Colorado. And, in August, the VA terminated the contract for the third group, the Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs of Williston, Florida.
The suspension of the PTSD service-dog program is in response to reports that some dogs at the facilities are aggressive. There are also concerns about poor care and grooming. Once an investigation is completed and new guidelines established for the program by the VA’s Office of Research and Development, it will continue.
A spokesman for Senator Franken said, “While new pairings of veterans and service dogs have been temporarily put on hold, the study itself is ongoing with existing pairings.”
No PTSD Service Dog Benefits
The VA pays for insurance, medical care and hardware for service dogs trained and accredited by Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation, to assist physically disabled veterans. However, not for PTSD service dogs.
The VA said, “Congress authorized VA to provide service dogs to veterans with disabilities as a means of mitigating the effects of a disability and not for the purpose of companionship or emotional support.”
Senator Charles Schumer disagrees with the VA’s decision to delay benefits for PTSD dogs until more research is available. He is pressuring the VA to revise its Service Dogs ruling, which goes into effect October 5.
Of the more than 2.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, an estimated 520,000 of them have or will develop PTSD.
Schumer says, “We owe it to these vets to provide them with every recovery option possible, including service dogs, prescribed by a doctor, to help them heal.”