Denying veterans access to service dogs is denying their access to greater quality of life and independence.
VetsFirst continues to advocate for the rights of veterans with disabilities who use service dogs.
These canines are not only lovable and loyal companions, they provide a variety of benefits to veterans. Specifically, service dogs promote community integration and improved quality of life and independence.
In addition to performing tasks such as pulling a wheelchair or opening a door, these highly trained animals can also help break down barriers between veterans with disabilities and society. Service dogs also help many veterans reintegrate into civilian life.
There are two key pieces of legislation on the table supported by VetsFirst that will benefit veterans across the country––the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act (H.R. 198) and the Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act (H.R. 1154). VetsFirst has submitted congressional testimony in favor of the passage of both bills.
The first bill, the Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act, introduced by Congressman John Carter, R-Texas, would ensure that all veterans with disabilities who use service dogs are able to access VA facilities.
VA regulations currently state that, “Dogs and other animals, except seeing-eye dogs, shall not be brought upon property except as authorized by the head of the facility or designee.”
Exempting guide dogs but not service dogs from VA property will lead to unequal protection for veterans and all people with disabilities. Further, allowing the use of service dogs to vary by VA facility has resulted in veterans encountering different access policies based on the discretion of the individual facility directors.
The second bill, the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act, introduced by Congressman Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., would create a pilot program to determine whether veterans with post-deployment mental health concerns, such as post-traumatic stress disorder could benefit by participating in the training of service dogs for fellow veterans. VetsFirst has advocated that VA work with accredited service dog agencies and trainers that can provide appropriate training and consultation in developing the pilot.
Many veterans find working with animals to be extremely therapeutic. But there has been opposition to the bill, most notably from the VA Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Health Dr. Robert Jesse, who has stated the bill is “unworkable”, explaining that it would require the evaluation of a large and very detailed list of factors, many of which cannot be measured.
VetsFirst feels, however, the positive impact that helping to train service dogs for fellow veterans with disabilities will have on veterans dealing with mental health concerns outweighs any negative ones.