Special Forces with a trained dog

Why the V.A. Won’t Pay for Service Dogs to Treat PTSD

Dogs certainly are man’s best friend. There are so many breeds; some of them have amazing features, capabilities, and add to the safety of humankind. They are used in hunting, protecting, finding people in disasters, and even keeping you company. Dogs offer unconditional love, and they are incredibly loyal creatures. They’ll meet you at the door and welcome you home, and they get you up in the morning so you’ll feed them. They encourage you to exercise. Dogs are intelligent. Even more importantly, dogs offer the way back to peace and security – especially if you are coming out of a war or war zone. They calm you down, and watch your back!

A well-trained canine can function as a guide dog for those who have become blind or have limited vision. Many therapists and soldiers know the benefit of a pet. If you have PTSD, a dog can be a therapeutic companion and a way back to civilian life. PTSD recovery is a crucial area where dogs are so valuable. Ought not these returning soldiers be given everything possible to continue their lives?

Trained dogs can make a world of difference when a veteran is going out and trying to re-assimilate into civilian life. The vet will feel as supported, and someone is looking out for them. Through the Assistance Dog Registry, you can register these service dogs to help vets heal. The certificate allows dogs to accompany them in public places and public transportation.

Dogs are so helpful when a vet is suffering from traumatic stress, nightmares, or depression. Sadly, the Veterans Administration does not want to fund emotional support dogs. These dogs are well-trained, purposeful, helpful, and loyal. Specialists train them to help the blind, returning soldiers, and aid those with emotional disabilities. The question remains: what is the evidence that they work on soldiers? Is there evidence that service dogs work?

One must remember that service dogs are specially trained to lessen the feelings of isolation or hyper-awareness of one’s surroundings! These dogs mitigate bad dreams, anxiety, and feeling unsafe. Veterans share that a service dog prevents suicide, and improves the quality of their life. Recent medical and psychological research, including a study by Purdue University, show that returning service personnel with PTSD do better with a service dog, than those on a waiting list! Would it not appear that studies are unnecessary to understand this? Dogs have been man’s best friend from the earliest of times. Now understandably veterans who have support dogs share that they are 22 percent more satisfied with life than those who do not have support dogs. Research has shown that service dogs increase resilience, and confirmed lower levels of depression, in what was a large sample of research participants.

Why Won’t the VA Support Emotional Service Dogs?

Firstly, the Veterans Administration feels that dogs certainly help with soldiers with physical disabilities. If a soldier has lost a limb or suffered a vision loss, the VA certainly knows that dogs can perform many functions for the wounded warriors of war. The VA supports this type of service dogs. However, the VA does not include emotional or mental support dogs in their lists. The VA’s stance is that there isn’t sufficient empirical evidence that these types of emotional support dogs provide the outcome proposed. The fact is that two studies from the VA have been inconclusive!

One study that began in 2011 ended quickly after only six months after two dogs bit children. In 2012, another investigation on the subject ended even quicker, as the organization that providing the dogs had a problem with their health, forcing the investigation to shut down after one month. A new study is still underway to determine whether a returning vet should get a service type dog or an ESA, emotional support animal.

The dilemma continues, insofar as the Americans With Disabilities Act covers service animals, but not ESAs – Emotional Support Animals. Meanwhile, a fully trained emotional support dog can run as high as $25,000 depending on the tasks it’s able to do. Returning soldiers with PTSD do not usually have that amount of money.

Now, if your animal falls under the ESA standards, you cannot take the canine into public places such as restaurants, as it is prohibited. The current state of things makes it hard for our PTSD veterans to return to regular life.

Surprisingly, there is a new shimmer of hope on the horizon. Recently, a bill called the PAWS Act – Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers – entered Congress. This bill would allow experts to inform the United States Congress about the benefits of emotional dogs in the lives of our returning soldiers with PTSD. After all, emotional support dogs appear to lessen the incidents of suicide among our veterans. Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide, which is over 7,300 deaths in a year! Congress will receive information as to whether or not these dogs are medically necessary, and advised by expert testimony.

It is worth noting that the bill has been on the Subcommittee on Health since May 2017. Information on the PAWS website provides updates to the public on this subject, but it appears that the VA is still out on the decision to provide emotional support dogs.

One of the VA’s retorts is that soldiers can merely dial the suicide prevention hotline as an alternative. One wonders about the missing benefits of an emotional support dog- which would be able to calm a veteran down and accompany them during stressful situations. A dog can help reduce anxiety before the need for a call would occur!

In conclusion, one ponders about the issue of taking better care of our veterans and their specific emotional needs. Remember, the words of Governor Morris, a founding father of our nation, when he wrote in the Preamble to the US Constitution: “Promote the general welfare!”