Department of Veterans Affairs suspends service dog program

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that, per a new policy, they would be suspending a program that provides reimbursements to military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who have been prescribed service dogs to help treat their condition. This policy is set to go into effect Friday, October 5.

Brad Schwarz’s service dog Panzer helps the Iraqi war vet cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder. (Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America)

Steve Dale reports that since June 2011, a VA study has been in progress that tracks the impact of service dogs paired with veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD. The VA was to follow 230 veterans with the condition and their loyal service dogs, and was slated to do so through 2014.

But as of today, only 17 veteran and service dog pairs have been included in the study, FederalNewsRadio.com reports.

The VA announced that they would be suspending that study, and that they will no longer advocate the use of service dogs for veterans living with PTSD, instead only supporting service dogs for veterans with visible disabilities.

In an email to FederalNewsRadio.com, a VA spokesperson explained that the department decided to revise its service dog policies in order to “streamline administrative processes, improve timelines, assure quality and remove administrative burdens previously required of the veteran.”

The American Humane Association hopes that the Department of Veterans Affairs will change their minds, with AHA President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert saying in a press release that, “service dogs, in particular, are an amazing, positive resource for assisting our nation’s best and bravest through 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,” Ganzert continued.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is also calling on the VA to reverse its decision and allow VA mental health professionals to be able to prescribe the treatments that would best help veterans suffering from the often crippling conditions — treatments that could include the use of service dogs.

“Our veterans fought bravely on the field of battle,” Schumer said in the release. “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,” Schumer added.

Sources: Steve Dale’s Pet World, FederalNewsRadio.com, AmericanHumane.org