Since AMVETS leaders and non-profit Paws With A Cause stormed Capitol Hill in April, informing legislators on the benefits of service dogs for wounded veterans, AMVETS has made considerable headway, pushing VA to codify its standards on prosthetic reimbursement for service animals. Now, the battle has shifted gears, to close a loophole discovered in the VA system that gives all veterans using "seeing eye dogs," or guide dogs, access to all medical facilities, but leaves leeway for each VA medical center director to decide whether or not other kinds of service animals are allowed to enter the facility.
Though many VA medical centers have extended access to all kinds of service dogs, some VA medical center directors continue to only allow guide dogs into their health care facilities because of the explicit guidelines for guide dogs in Title 38--the body of law governing VA. Thanks to this anomaly, many veterans who need service animals for other physical conditions are forced to leave their animals behind, should they wish to seek treatment at a VA medical center, only creating another hurdle to care.
Last week, with the help of AMVETS, Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, asking the secretary to close the loophole and finally publish guidelines for VA facilities mandating uniformed service dog access regulations that will mirror those already in place for veterans with guide dogs.
Shinseki's office replied the query quickly, noting that the department had commissioned a work group to address all categories of service animals in VA health care facilities to provide a proposed directive to VA leadership by the end of the 2010 calendar year.
AMVETS applauded VA's swift action on the issue in an effort to potentially close the ADA loophole once and for all.
American Veteran will continue to follow VA's progress in codifying service dog policies for VA health care facilities. Check back regularly for updates on this issue, and to read more about AMVETS' and Paws' work helping to secure prosthetic benefits for veterans using assistance animals, check out the latest issue of American Veteran magazine.
(Image: Congressman Klein's letter to Secretary Shinseki.)