Press Releases on VA Ending Support of Service Dogs for Veterans Returning with PTSD

Press Releases on VA Ending Support of Service Dogs for Veterans Returning with PTSD
Charles Schumer is among the U.S. Senators to support service dogs for veterans returning with PTSD, and held a press conference to say so, and offer disappointment and surprise about the VA's recent decision

I wrote about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suspending support for service dogs for returning soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder.

I am not alone. Here are press releases (verbatim) from the American Humane Association and from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. These are only two examples, the experts on human/animal bond and  public officials are surprised (if not appalled) at the decision by the VA.


WASHINGTON. D.C. American Humane Association, the nation's leading advocate on behalf of animals and children, today called on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reverse a policy that would end a program reimbursing veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for their use of service dogs while in recovery. The policy is set to go into effect on Oct. 5, 2012.

"American Humane Association's focus on animal-assisted therapy dates back to 1945 when we promoted therapy dogs as a means to help World War II veterans recover from the effects of war," said American Humane Association President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert. "We know from years of experience that the human-animal bond is a source of powerful healing, whether they are children suffering from cancer or military men and women who have suffered the stress of battle. Service dogs, in particular, are an amazing, positive resource for assisting our nation's best and bravest though their physical pain and mental anguish. We call on the VA and the United States Congress to stand up for our veterans and their families by continuing to reimburse veterans who suffer from PTSD for the cost of medically approved service dogs."

In a letter sent to United States Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), American Humane Association commended the senator for his leadership on the issue and his fight on behalf of veterans who enjoy the healing benefits of service dogs.

In the letter, Ganzert praised Senator Schumer, saying, "Yours is a courageous fight on behalf of veterans who have experienced the restorative and healing powers of dog-assisted therapy, and we pledge you our full support in your effort to save this critical program."

American Humane Association has long been a leader in a field of study and practice known today as Animal-Assisted Therapy, or AAT. American Humane Association provides animal-assisted therapy services to the health care, child welfare, education and military fields. Through American Humane Association programs, animal-handlers and therapy animals positively affect some 125,000 lives a year as the core participants in one of the nation's largest animal-assisted therapy programs in the country.

Earlier this year, American Humane Association and Pfizer Animal Health announced the completion of the first round of an innovative research study on the benefits of AAT on pediatric cancer patients and their families. The research study, "Canines and Childhood Cancer: Examining the Effects of Therapy Dogs with Childhood Cancer Patients and their Families," is a multi-year effort taking place in hospital settings across the U.S. that will examine the specific medical, behavioral, and mental health benefits AAT may have for children with cancer and their families. A comprehensive literature review has been completed as a first step.
New Directive Going Into Effect Next Month, VA Prevents Financial Assistance for Service Dogs for Vets with Mental and Emotional Disorders – Even if Suggested By A V.A. Doctor

Research Suggests that Trained Service Dogs Are Effective At Helping Vets Cope – V.A. Wants To End Program Until It Completes Its Own Study in 2014

Schumer Calls on Feds to Allow Their Doctors To Recommend Service Dogs and Provide Financial Assistance

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to immediately revise a recent directive that will prevent veterans with PTSD and other mental and emotional disorders from receiving VA benefits for service dogs. According to federal law, the VA can reimburse veterans with both physical and mental disabilities for the costs of owning a service dog, if a medical professional deems such a dog to be beneficial.  However, according to a new VA directive that will go into effect on October 5th, only veterans with physical disabilities will have this option, until a VA study on the matter is completed in 2014.  This is despite evidence that service dogs have the capability to assist those with mental disabilities. In the New York metro area, there are approximately 6,614 veterans who suffer from PTSD and are being treated at VA medical facilities or Readjustment Counseling Centers and 182,147 around the country.

Schumer was joined by Barbara Jenkel of Educated Canines Assisting With Disabilities (ECAD), and her dog Blip; Iraq veteran Charles Hernandez and his dog Valor; and Afghanistan veteran Leslie Wohlfeld and her dog Lizzy.

“Our veterans fought bravely on the field of battle, but unfortunately, for some veterans, the battle does not end once they return home,” said Schumer. “Sadly, the horrors of war mean that many veterans come home with PTSD and other mental and emotional ailments. That’s why we owe it to these vets to provide them with every recovery option possible, including service dogs, prescribed by a doctor, to help them heal.  Man’s best friend can be a vet’s best friend, and that’s why, as the wars are winding down and with the ranks of those suffering mental and emotional trauma remaining sky-high, the VA should not deny benefits to veterans that will help them to access service dogs.”

Service dogs are trained dogs that offer assistance to people with disabilities. These dogs can be used to help people with visual, hearing or other physical ailments, as well as helping people with mental illnesses and emotional trauma. Mental health service dogs may help treat people with PTSD because they help them to cope with the everyday challenges including anxiety attacks, migraines and nightmares. There has been evidence to suggest that mental health service dogs can be trained to help avert panic attacks and remind veterans to take medication.

The VA’s new directive eliminates service dogs as an option to treat mental ailments until an internal study is completed in 2014.  The VA claims that they will not provide benefits for mental health service dogs to veterans with PTSD and TBI because there is not enough clinical evidence to support their effectiveness; however, there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence to support the effectiveness as well as a long history of providing service dogs to people with mental disabilities. An essay printed in the U.S. Army’s United States Army Medical Department Journal from April-June 2012, for example, explains the biology underlying the observed benefits of mental health service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD. The article points to extensive anecdotal evidence of firsthand reports by veterans.

Mental Health Service dogs are also recognized as emotionally supportive in numerous agencies across the federal government.  The Department of Justice, for example, recognizes mental health service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Fair Housing Act allows tenants that have mental health service dogs stay in housing that would normally not allow pets, and the Air Carrier Access Act permits mental health service dogs to travel in the cabin when accompanied by a person with a disability. Furthermore, in 2009, Congress passed legislation (PL111-117) explicitly authorizing the VA to provide service dogs to mentally disabled veterans, including those with PTSD. But the VA not only has yet to do this, but this new directive will actually prohibit mental health service dogs as a covered treatment option for veterans.

Schumer, pointing to evidence supporting the use of service dogs to treat mental ailments, called on the VA to change course.  He said that the VA’s doctors and mental health professionals should be the ones that determine the best treatment for those with mental disabilities so that veterans with invisible wounds returning home get the assistance that they need. The VA’s new rule specifically eliminates mental health issues as a qualification for obtaining benefits for a service animal. Schumer noted that clinical evidence may not be made available until 2014 or later, which is the earliest that VA’s clinical study will be completed, and veterans who may benefit from mental health service dogs may suffer before the science catches up to what is already known. Schumer also made the case that it is extremely difficult for veterans with PTSD and TBI to be able to cover the full cost of a service dog, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Schumer explained that it is a disservice to these veterans, who have fought for our country, to be denied the treatment they need. Even though VA only covers a portion of the expenses, it is a start that the VA should build upon.

Prior to this new VA directive, Congress pushed for the VA to begin researching the ways in which service dogs might be able to help veterans who suffer from the two most common mental disabilities from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, PTSD and TBI and provide clinical evidence to suggest the effectiveness. The study is being conducted at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Florida and is supposed to take three years to be completed in 2014.   Schumer said that while this study is underway, doctors and mental health professionals should still allow prescribing dogs for those with mental disabilities if they feel it will be beneficial.

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