The American Humane Association, a leading advocate on behalf of animals and children, has launched an online petition, calling on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to reverse a decision to end a program reimbursing veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder for their use of service dogs while in recovery.
“Our 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,’’ says Robin R. Ganzert, AHA president and CEO. “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.’’
Under 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 went into effect Oct. 5, only veterans with physical disabilities will have this option, until a VA study on the benefits of service dogs is completed in 2014.
“Although we do not disagree with some commenters’ subjective accounts that mental health service dogs have improved the quality of their lives, VA has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness,” the VA said in explaining the funding cutoff.
The VA decision also drew fire from Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, a longtime supporter of service dogs for military veterans.
The VA move was made “despite evidence that service dogs have the capability to assist those with mental disabilities,’’ says Schumer, who noted that in the New York metro area, there are approximately 6,614 veterans who suffer from PTSD and 182,147 around the country.
“Our veterans fought bravely on the field of battle, but unfortunately, for some veterans, the battle does not end once they return home,” says 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.”
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, Schumer says.
To read the AHA petition, click here.