The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

AMVETS Asks For Clarification on Service Dogs

Yesterday, AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof sent a formal letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking for a formal update on VA's study of service dogs for wounded veterans and clarification on VA's outreach efforts on current benefits available to veterans using eligible service animals.

The letter was similar to letters Roof has worked on with leaders in the House, which was sent to Shinseki in May, and the Senate, which is currently in circulation among Senate staff.

AMVETS and Congressional leaders are looking for clarification on the VA's study of service dogs and the health impacts for both physically and psychologically wounded veterans as commissioned by the 2010 defense authorization.

Under the law, VA had 270 days to clarify how it would conduct the study--a deadline approaching on July 8.

Prior to the deadline, AMVETS hopes to ensure that VA's Office of the General Counsel has kept with the intent of the study, especially in light of this week's hearing in the House where Congressional leaders chastised VA's General Counsel for a lack of proper oversight and neglecting to adhere to guidelines outlined in laws pertaining to veterans' benefits.

AMVETS latest letter also asked for clarification on VA's outreach efforts on current service dog benefits provided under Title 38, the body of law governing veterans' benefits. Under the current law, veterans who make use of service dogs for physical injuries are entitled to compensation for veterinary care and other types of routine care for their service animals through VA's office of prosthetics and sensory aides.

However, for years VA had failed to properly enroll veterans in the program. Recently, AMVETS has been working with VA prosthetics to help reach out to veterans, but efforts hit a road block last month. AMVETS hopes to continue leveraging all available resources to inform veterans of these benefits.

AMVETS has been a critical voice on veterans' service dogs since partnering with non-profit Paws With A Cause in 1987 to place service dogs with deserving wounded veterans.

In the last few months, AMVETS and Paws have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue with VA leadership and on Capitol Hill to ensure responsible implementation of veterans' service dog programs.

American Veteran will continue to follow VA's service dog study and benefits outreach closely. For updates, check back regularly.

(Images: Top: AMVETS' letter to VA Secretary Shinseki asking about veterans' service dog issues. Bottom: AMVETS member and U.S. Paralympian Kevin Stone and his assistance dog Mambo speak with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) during recent visits to Capitol Hill, while CNN collects b-roll for a story on veterans and their assistance dogs. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

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  1. Does this study also include Psychiatric Service Dogs?

  2. I wouold like to know if this study or the laws regarding compensation include seizure response dogs. I am a disabled Veteran and I have a seizure response dog given to me by AIM HI (Animals in the Military Helping Individuals) via the VA and because I don't have a physical injury the VA refuses to help with veterinary costs. However my seizures are physical and have caused an increasingly painful physical back and hip injury.

  3. The study most definitely includes the use of Service Dogs for Psychiatric conditions.

  4. KC,
    The laws and regulations regarding seizure dogs and benefits are very blurry right now within the VA system. I would highly recommend re-applying for the benefit even if you have been previously denied. I can not make any promises on what VA will do, but they need to know that many veterans are utilizing the services the seizure response dogs and that they need to be addressed regarding benefits. Print the sample copy of Form 10-2641 provided in a previous article on this blog and take it directly to you VA caseworker to re-apply for the benefit. Make sure that the you make it clear the the dog is helping to prevent further physical injuries, as Service Dogs for TBI patients do. Please keep us posted!

  5. I am a disabled veteran who suffers from a multitude of service related physical and mental problems that include PTSD and blinding migrain headaches. I am also beginning to have mobility problems because of military related knee injuries and lower spine degeneration. 20 years of service including combat in Viet Nam and the Middle-East will do that to you.

    I recently approached my case worker at the Seattle VA Hospital for assistance in obtaining a Service Dog through the VA. I was surprised to find that none of the Seattle VA Case Workers had ever made an attempt to assist a veteran in obtaining a Service Dog!

    My Case Worker accessed the internet and searched for Service Dog training and placement organizations. Each organization we contacted seemed disconcerted that my major disabilities were mental rather than physical.

    I spend most of my awake time in the outdoors away from society in general. I had a Lab for awhile but she didn't like travelling and she had to stay in the vehicle when I stopped for whatever reason. So, I found her a big farm where there were two other dogs and they wanted her as company. I still miss her.

    When I first heard of Service Dogs' assisting veterans I became very excited. I thought that maybe a Service Dog could help me climb out of this seemingly never ending Well of depression and anxiety. Maybe a Service Dog could be trained to bring my cell phone if I fall and injure myself again, or maybe it could be trained to firmly insist that I get out of bed at regular intervals instead of shutting the alarm off and rolling over to sleep again because I don't want to face the world at that moment.

    Every single Service Dog training organization I contacted said I didn't qualify for a Service Dog because most of my disabilities are mental rather than physical and these organizations concentrate on training their dogs to work with the physically handicapped rather than the psycologically tramatized individuals.

    A couple of these trainers suggested a Companion Dog for me rather than a Service Dog. The training time if far shorter than that of the Service Dogs. The disadvantage of the Companion Dog is that it has no Federal or State legal support and is therefore considered to be only a well trained pet.

    Because I am so often traveling or staying in Hotels/Motels, or eating in restraunts, etc., a Companion Dog would not work for me because the dog must be allowed by law to go anywhere I go. Companion Dogs are not afforded entry into many esablishments that by law must be afforded to Service Dogs!

    Once again I find myself alienated because of my PTSD afliction. I also find it very frustrating to read about how Service Dogs are helping veterans cope with both physical and mental disabilities only to discover that even a VA Regional Hospital such as that in Seattle, WA, has absolutely no direct experience or knowledge of these great programs! This results in greater depression and a desire to just never get out of bed!

    I am thankful that some veterans do get the opportunity to benefit from Service Dogs and that is a direct result of organizations like AMVETS and PAWS taking the lead through education and financing.

    I'm sure that I speak for all veterans when I say a heartfelt "Thanks' for all the support your organizations provide to help the disabled veterans of America!" ...JTG

    1. Were you ever able to get SD for your disabilities? If not and are still interested, I'd be interested in discussing it with you. I volunteered with AIM HI and now train SD's under my own private company, Advance K9 Services, LLC. I also help owner-trainer teams for those who want to train a SD for themselves. I just found this article when looking up the current VA situation for regs, etc. I've trained several SD's for PTSD, bipolar, anxiety, etc. But you're right, most larger programs focus on physical disabilities, and not psych. It's a shame and it's something I hope will change in the near future.

  6. I went to get a copy of the form from Delaware Commission of Veteran Affairs and was told that a doctor had to submit the form, I could not do it myself

  7. Dawn,
    Your doctor is correct. As we had stated in past updates the form is for internal use only. However VHA did provide us a sample copy of the form so you can print it and take to your case worker so they know exactly what to file. Let us know if we can help.

  8. Jack,
    Thank you for the kind words and thank you for your service. Please let us know if we can be of assistance to you.

  9. I was told yesterday by the Prosthetics Office that my primary care physician had to write a consult to them for a service dog. She had to fill out the 2641 and then Prosthetics will forward it to Washington for approval. Service dogs for PTSD are being approved. This was at the Tampa VA that I got my information.

  10. Jack
    There is a service dog organization that does consider applicants with psychiatric issues such as yours as well as physical disbilities. It is Susquehanna Service Dogs. The problem is that it is located in PA! But please contact them for more information 717-599-5920
    Kepp trying! A service dog could be a huge benefit for you!

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