Palm Beach Post - The Department of Veterans Affairs will pay service-dog benefits to veterans with vision, hearing or mobility-related injuries but not to veterans suffering only with post-traumatic-stress-disorder and other mental health disabilities.
In justifying its decision, the VA cited “nationally established” and “widely accepted” training protocols for sight, hearing and mobility-assistance dogs and the lack of similar training protocols for mental health service dogs.
In addition, because there is little clinical research on mental health service dogs, the “VA has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide medical benefit to veterans with mental illness. Until such determination can be made, VA cannot justify providing benefits for mental health service dogs.”
Veterans with service dogs were baffled by the rule.
“You get doctors and people telling you that you’re not disabled enough,” said Jim Stanek, an infantryman in the U.S. Army who served three tours of combat duty in Iraq. Stanek, who has been diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury, helped found Paws and Stripes, a non-profit group in Albuquerque, NM, that provides service dogs and training to veterans with PTSD and mental health disabilities.
Service dogs are individually trained to perform tasks for a specific person. Some of the tasks performed to assist veterans with PTSD include surveying darkened rooms, turning on lights, re-orienting their owner during nightmares or flashbacks, navigating through crowds, sensing anxiety, enforcing boundaries for personal space and retrieving a cellphone, said Sally Chester, secretary of Genesis Assistance Dogs Inc. of West Palm Beach.
“I know what service dogs can do,” said Chester. “Veterans have reported to me what a support their service dogs are.”
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Written by Christine Stapleton