Last week VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich sent a letter to AMVETS outlining VA's plans to enact a new directive that would allow veterans utilizing service dogs as prosthetic devices access to VHA facilities.
The target date for all VHA directors to implement new policies is June 30, 2011.
Under the directive--which expires in March 2016--VA facilities must create new policies allowing veterans who utilize VA-sanctioned service dogs for physical disabilities the same access afforded to seeing-eye and guide dogs.
In the past veterans like AMVETS members Kevin Stone and Sue Downes have been denied access to VA facilities while accompanied by their service dogs Mambo and Leila. Meanwhile, both Stone and Downes receive VA compensation for the proper upkeep of their service dogs, which assist with mobility and independence for both veterans, who sustained serious injuries in the line of duty.
In response to the letter, AMVETS Acting Legislative Director Christina Roof sent a reply to Gingrich, applauding VA's efforts, but clarifying that AMVETS must continue to pursue a permanent legislative solution to the access issue through the Veterans Equal Treatment of Service Dogs Act, or VETS Dogs Act, which was introduced in the House by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, during the recent LZ:DC, and subsequently introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
"AMVETS sincerely appreciates your personal attention to the issue of access to VA facilities for disabled veterans utilizing service dogs as prosthetic devices," said Roof in her letter to Gingrich. "However, AMVETS still maintains that the new VA directive is only a temporary solution to ensuring disabled veterans access VA facilities."
In the letter, Roof clarified that the legislative solution was not an attack on VA or on Gingrich, who gave personal attention to the veterans' service dog issue last summer during AMVETS National Convention, but rather a prudent course of action to ensure that VA policy toward service dogs does not change in the future.
The House and Senate committees on Veterans Affairs intend to address the VETS Dogs Act in the coming months, and Roof said she invites VA's insight on the potential regulation change, when that time comes.
American Veteran will continue to follow the VETS Dogs Act closely. Check back regularly for updates.
To learn more about the VETS Dogs Act, Click Here.
To see video of the press conference announcing the VETS Dogs Act, Click Here.
(Images: Top: Letter from VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich to AMVETS addressing health care access for veterans utilizing service dogs. Bottom: AMVETS' response to the Gingrich letter.)