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.)