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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

AMVETS Testifies Before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs about H.R. 1154, the “Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act.”

Yesterday, was the first time I witnessed a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill. In case you've never been in a hearing room, imagine stepping back in time to the Victorian era. The room in which the hearing took place was intimidating to say the least, with extremely high ceilings painted white, with golden accents and pearl-like air vent covers. (At least they looked like pearls to me at like a million feet away)The window treatments were dramatic draperies in dark blue and white lace. There were three enormous windows that let in lots of natural light.
All set the perfect tone to get down to the business of passing H.R. 1154 into law.

H.R. 1154 was introduced by Rep. John Carter (TX) and gained overwhelming bi-partisan support since it's introduction on March 17, 2011. The bill's purpose is to give veterans utilizing Service Dogs the same access rights to VA Medical Centers and VA facilities already given to blind veterans using Guide Dogs. In March, more than 100 members of AMVETS, the sons of AMVETS and the AMVETS Women's Auxiliary stormed the Hill in an effort to let lawmakers know they were serious about the swift passage of H.R. 1154 and finally removing this hurdle to care disabled veterans are experiencing, such as AMVETS member Kevin Stone, and his Service Dog, Mambo.

AMVETS testified before the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on Health, focusing their oral testimony on H.R. 1154, the "Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act", as well as another piece of legislation AMVETS has assisted in developing, H.R. 198, introduced by Rep. Grimm (NY).

Below is an excerpt from the oral testimony of Christina Roof, National Acting Legislative Director for AMVETS, on the two bills.

AMVETS strongly supports H.R. 1154, the “Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act.” In 2009, I personally began to play an active role in AMVETS 30 plus years of work in the area of disabled veterans and Service Dogs. I could have never imagined that 2 ½ years later, I would be sitting here testifying on a piece of legislation that is in dire need of being signed into law and implemented without any further delay. This piece of legislation is HR 1154.

AMVETS believes this cost free piece of legislation will permanently eliminate an often overlooked and unwarranted hurdle to care disabled veterans are currently experiencing when seeking their necessary VA health care services. To date, Title 38, Part 1, § 1.218 (a)(11) states:

“Dogs and other animals, except seeing-eye dogs, shall not be brought upon property except as authorized by the head of the facility or designee”.

AMVETS finds the aforesaid language of Title 38 to be inconsistent and outdated when compared to the sections of Title 38 it is to govern. While numerous parts of Title 38 are constantly updated to reflect the health care needs of today’s wounded warriors, this section of Title 38 has been overlooked and has thus failed to be updated since July of 1985.

This outdated law is resulting in disabled veterans utilizing VA approved Service Dogs as a prosthetic device, to be denied entrance into the VAMCs and CBOCs they depend on for life sustaining care. One of the veterans who has personally experienced this barrier to care is AMVETS member, Kevin Stone and his Service Dog, Mambo, who are in attendance today.

AMVETS believes disabled veterans, such as Mr. Stone, using Service Dogs as a prosthetic device must have the same access rights to VA care and facilities as currently afforded to blind veterans using Guide Dogs.

AMVETS supports H.R. 198, the “Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act.” AMVETS lends our support to the updated language of H.R. 198 that will be submitted in committee markup. AMVETS believes the updated language will help ensure that H.R. 198 provides veterans the highest quality care and vocational training.

By way of background, AMVETS has worked with Paws With A Cause, an ADI -accredited agency, to help provide Service Dogs to disabled veterans for over 25 years. Through this partnership, AMVETS has witnessed first -hand the incredible changes that occur in a veteran’s life when introducing a dog into their overall treatment plan. These changes are often illustrated through a veteran’s ability to maintain a higher quality of life and greater mental health improvements, when compared to veterans undergoing clinical care alone. HR 198 and the dogs it will use, have the ability to break down barriers in a veteran’s world by shattering public stigmas and increase a veteran’s overall wellbeing by reigniting purpose through allowing the veterans to continue their service to their country by assisting their comrades.

AMVETS is aware of VAMCs that have used programs similar to the structure of H.R. 198 with great success for both the veteran trainers and the veteran Service Dog recipients. Furthermore, AMVETS believes H.R. 198 will be beneficial to VA by developing stronger policies and procedures regarding Service Dogs within the VA health care system. AMVETS is happy to lend our support to H.R. 198.

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