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VA provides service dog benefits to veterans with mental health disorders

Service dogs to help veterans with mental disorders.

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday that it is piloting a program that will provide service dog benefits for veterans with mobility issues 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 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 who need guide or service dogs.

The pilot will extend those benefits to veterans with a mental health disorder that substantially limits mobility if a service dog is the best 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.

The pilot will extend the benefit to another 100 veterans.

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.