Last week the Dept. of Veteran Affairs (VA) ruled that while it will cover the cost for service dogs who assist veterans who have mobility, vision or hearing problems, it will not pay for dogs that help with mental issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
According to the Federal Register, the VA stated that despite several testimonials from veterans insisting the dogs provided them with relief, “VA has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness. Until such a determination can be made, VA cannot justify providing benefits for mental health service dogs.”
To qualify to be a service animal, a dog is trained to perform everyday tasks such as turning on lights, picking up things – and for PTSD sufferers, waking them up from nightmares and calming them to prevent panic attacks.
The Service Dogs for Veterans Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in October 2009, provided 200 dogs to veterans with physical or mental disabilities. It also established a program to study the impact service dogs have on them.
Veteran Journal reported that a three-year study is underway at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Fla., to determine if service dogs actually do benefit vets with PTSD.
Many vets who currently have mental health service dogs can probably predict the results of that study.
Luis Zaragoza, a 28-year-old Iraq war vet who suffers PTSD, told NBC News that thanks to his service dog, Cheyenne, he has experienced more progress in just one month than he had in the eight years since he was discharged.
“I was just in limbo, but now I’m seeing glimpses of the old me — the me I was before I joined the military,” Zaragoza said. “At the VA, what they tend to do is pump you with medicine. That’s not a solution to any issue like PTSD or anxiety.”
Cases of PTSD continue to steadily rise. In November 2011, the VA released a report stating that more than 200,000 vets have the disorder. More than 3,000 of them check into hospitals each month for treatment, putting a severe strain on the department’s resources.
The Nevada Humane Society, whose G.I. Dogs program provides free service dogs and companion pets to that state’s veterans, is currently looking for veterans diagnosed with PTSD to participate in a three-month clinical study to test the benefits of service dogs, according to KRNV News. To participate or for more information, call Alicia Adams at 775-328-1860.