VA announced that the "veterinary health benefit" program for service dogs (provides veterinary well-being and medical/surgical insurance plus some other reimbursements for travel and equipment) will be expanded to include veterans who have mobility impairments due to mental health disorders. Previously in the 2012 Final Rule describing the program, language specifically excluded dogs that provided assistance to veterans with mental health diagnoses unless the veterans also had a physical or mobility impairment. VA Undersecretary Shulkin decided to add up to 100 veterans to the program with a diagnosis such as PTSD within the legal framework that VA already has to provide benefits when veterans have a physical or mobility impairment related to their mental health diagnosis. For the purposes of this program, VA is now considering a person who is reluctant to leave their house due to agoraphobia to have a mobility disorder.
The text of the release:
VA provides service dog benefits to Veterans with mental health disorders. WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it is piloting a protocol to implement veterinary health benefits for mobility service dogs approved for Veterans with a chronic impairment that substantially limits mobility associated with mental health disorders.
“We take our responsibility for the care and safety of Veterans very seriously,” said VA Under Secretary for Health, Dr. David J. Shulkin. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is committed to providing appropriate, safe and effective, compassionate care to all Veterans. Implementing the veterinary health benefit for mobility service dogs approved for Veterans with a chronic impairment that substantially limits mobility associated with mental health disorders may prove to be significantly beneficial for some Veterans. The Service Dog Benefits Pilot will evaluate this premise.”
VA has been providing veterinary benefits to Veterans diagnosed as having visual, hearing or substantial mobility impairments and whose rehabilitation and restorative care is clinically determined to be optimized through the assistance of a guide dog or service dog. With this pilot, this benefit is being provided to Veterans with a chronic impairment that substantially limits mobility associated with a mental health disorder for whom the service dog has been identified as the optimal way for the Veteran to manage the mobility impairment and live independently.
Service dogs are distinguished from pets and comfort animals because they are specially trained to perform tasks or work for a specific individual with a disability who cannot perform the task or accomplish the work independently. To be eligible for the veterinary health benefit, the service dog must be trained by an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International in accordance with VA regulations.
Currently, 652 Veterans with approved guide or service dogs receive the veterinary service benefit. This Pilot is anticipated to provide the veterinary service benefit to up to 100 additional Veterans with a chronic impairment that substantially limits mobility associated with a mental health disorder.
The VA veterinary service benefit includes comprehensive wellness and sick care (annual visits for preventive care, maintenance care, immunizations, dental cleanings, screenings, etc.), urgent/emergent care, prescription medications, and care for illnesses or disorders when treatment enables the dog to perform its duties in service to the Veteran.
Additional information about VA’s service dog program can be found at http://www.prosthetics.va.gov/ServiceAndGuideDogs.asp