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

Friday, February 4, 2011

AMVETS Calls on Shinseki for Department-wide Service Dog Policy

Yesterday, AMVETS Executive Director Jim King sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, asking the secretary to close a critical health care loophole for veterans utilizing service dogs.

Last year, through extensive work advocating for veterans who use service dogs as prosthetic devices for physical injuries, AMVETS Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof discovered that VA medical centers around the country are not only exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, but that each medical center was allowed to dictate its own policies toward service dogs.

In two instances, AMVETS members who needed the assistance of their service dogs to make it to their VA appointments were denied care based on the antiquated VA policy that only provides concessions for seeing-eye or guide dogs in VA facilities.

VA already acknowledges that service dogs certified through a doctor's authority to assist with physical disabilities are to be considered prosthetic devices, allowing veterans to receive compensation for regular maintenance.

Last year, AMVETS successfully worked with VA to start properly processing claims for these prosthetic benefits when Roof discovered the access loophole.

AMVETS has attempted to work through proper VA channels to remedy this oft-overlooked policy to ensure that veterans who need their service dogs would not be turned away for care, but Roof said that proper channels have not yielded results, which is why King decided to bring the issue to the attention of Shinseki.

AMVETS is also rallying support for the issue within veterans' advocacy circles, with many partners on The Military Coalition volunteering to send similar letters in the coming days.

AMVETS leaders encourage concerned veterans around the country to use King's letter as a model and send letters of their own to VA and to representatives in Congress.

"A strong, unified voice from the veterans community is the only way to effect positive change," said Roof. "This is the best way for our nation's leaders to see how serious these issues are."

American Veteran will continue to follow the issue closely, and Roof said she will continue to push for equal access for all veterans utilizing VA-sanctioned prosthetic devices like service dogs.

(Image: Official letter from AMVETS National Executive Director Jim King asking VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to close a loophole for veterans' service dogs.)

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  1. I wish he would have included Psychiatric Service Dogs for PTSD/TBI, etc. instead of just saying "Service Dogs".

  2. Why didn't you mention Psychiatric Service Dogs, in your story?

    Service Dogs that help with mental disabilities, are recognized my the federal government as equal to Service Dogs who help with physical disabilities. Why doesn't AMVETS and the VA also recognize Psychiatric Service Dogs as equal to all other Service Dogs.

    Why aren't Psychiatric Service Dogs, certified through a doctor's authority to assist with mental disabilities also considered prosthetic devices, and why is the VA not allowing veterans with mental disabilities to receive the same compensation for regular maintenance of their Psychiatric Service Dogs, that the veterans with physical disabilities, are receiving for their Service Dogs?

    I am a Disabled Veteran with a mental disability, and a Psychiatric Service Dog, and I think my Service Dog and I should be treated equal, and receive the same benefits, as a Veteran, with a physical disability and their Service Dog

    Terri Kemp

  3. I have suffered with PTSD for over 20 years. I have been on many different meds and attended thousands of group VA sponsored support sessions to talk about all kinds of issues and problems but nothing has benefited me more than my 4 year old Phsychiatric support animal a standard yorkie trained as a medical alert and emotional distraction companion [PSD] at great personal expense [over $4,000 so far] because the VA does not consider my 70% PTSD disability as an ailment worthy of PSD treatment and support. So now I have been able to stop all mental health appts, decrease my med use, and save the VA thousands of dollars for treatment I now have to get at personal expense AND most importantly without veteran organization support also. A very sad commentary for AMVETS and all other non-supporting Vetern organizations for us members. I am Norman L. Pickett at norman_pickett at hotmail dot com and on facebook.

  4. Thank you for all the comments and feedback on this story and on the issue.

    Unfortunately, VA is exempt from ADA laws, which is why equal access for service dogs has become an issue at each VA medical center. As you can see, veterans are being denied care because they choose to utilize treatment options VA condones. AMVETS believes this poses an ethical dilemma. AMVETS’ mission at the moment is to compel VA to comply with regulations outlined in Title 38 and to ensure equal access for veterans utilizing service dogs as prosthetic devices for physical injuries, which VA currently helps to finance.

    Please understand that AMVETS wholly supports VA’s current study on psychiatric service dogs, which was included in last year's Defense Authorization thanks to Sen. Al Franken. However, AMVETS cannot advocate for prosthetic benefits for psychiatric service dogs at the moment because of critical, missing scientific information and a lack of industry standards. As more information on psychiatric service dogs becomes available, AMVETS will reevaluate our stance and proceed accordingly.

    Each of these actions—such as closing the access loophole or working with VA to properly process prosthetic benefits claims—is an incremental step in ensuring equal access to VA facilities and VA benefits for all veterans utilizing service dogs.

  5. I think what AMVETS is saying here is that until the regulations on access are updated, it does not matter what "type" of service Dog you use because unless you are blind and using a Guide Dog you can be denied entry into VAMCs and CBOCs. So let's make the laws equal for disabled vets using Service Dogs to blind veterans using Guide Dogs. EQUAL ACCESS TO CARE!

  6. I can take my dog to the VA Hospital in Tampa. I've also take him to the hospital in St Pete. I guess it depends on where you go.

  7. I've also blogged on this issue. Feel free to check it out at

  8. Thanks a lot for this informative post i like this post thanks a lot for this great information. keep posting and updating the blog. i like it so much....

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