Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

Veterans Corner

November 18, 2012

VA to stop covering service dogs for veterans with mental disabilities

By JIM VINES

The Department of Veterans Affairs will no longer cover the cost of service dogs assigned to people with mental disabilities, such as post traumatic stress disorder.

The VA has laid out a long list of rules and regulations concerning veterans in need of service dogs. The VA claims there is not enough evidence to support the medical need for the veterans suffering from PTSD or TBI. The VA as yet, has not been able to determine that these type of dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness.

The VA will continue to provide service dogs for people with visual, hearing or mobility impairments. However the department said it will be up to the veterans to pay for the service dogs’ needs if it is not clinically prescribed by a veterinarian. The funding loss comes as a blow to trainers and people who help place veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI and other service related injuries across the country.

A solution to this problem with the VA comes with the dedication to veterans needs by several non-profit organizations, one being Paws and Stripes. A non-profit organization for veterans of our Armed Forces, located in Rio Ranco, N.M., Paws and Stripes provides service dogs for PTSD and TBI effected military personnel. These service dogs are obtained only from shelters and are trained by professionals specializing in service dogs. It is the aim of this organization to provide these dogs and training at no cost to the veteran.

All dogs trained by Paws and Stripes are service dogs and not therapy dogs. Both play a valuable role, and both of these roles are very different. It is important to know the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog not just because they perform different jobs, but also because you would interact with each differently.

A service dog is trained to provide specific medical assistance to ONE individual. Such tasks include medical alerts, mobility assistance, seeing eye for the blind and much more. When you see a dog that is a service dog, usually labeled on a vest, you should NEVER talk to, pet, stare or distract the dog in any way. There is a very important reason for this. If you distract a service dog, then this dog may miss a vital signal to provide a medical alert for seizure or other episodes, or miss a cue to assist with fall risk and more. When others distract a service dog they are putting the handler in jeopardy without realizing it. An individual with a service dog has a disability that requires constant help from the dog. Be aware that a service dog is not a pet, and pets are not service dogs.

Therapy dogs on the other hand are trained to be very social with one one or more individuals at one time. Therapy dogs are taken to hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, orphanages and other such facilities for patient and residents to interact with the dog. They spend time with people who are ill, elderly, in recovery, or otherwise in need of comfort. Therapy dogs are well socialized and trained by people of all ages, sizes, and physical conditions. Thus, their job is to provide comfort to many, rather that perform specific tasks for one.  

Organizations such as Paws and Stripes rely on the general public for assistance financially. Contact for this organization can be found at www.pawsandstripes.org or by calling (505) 999-1201. Go to www.servicedogsforveterans.com also for additional organizations available.  

Hope Veterans Day was a memorable one for all. Thanksgiving is around the corner. There are many groups that provide Thanksgiving Dinner for veterans. Find one and volunteer. You will feel great.

Speak to you again next week.

Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133 in Mineral Wells.

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