By Debbie Gregory.
Mobility service dogs are now available for Veterans with mental disorders that prevent them from leaving their homes or moving around. And the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has announced a pilot program to cover veterinary health benefits for the service dogs.
To be eligible for the veterinary health benefit, the service dog must be trained by an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) in accordance with VA regulations.
These dogs are distinguished from pets and comfort animals because they are specially trained to help their owners perform tasks such as getting out of bed, going outside to shop, or going to social functions.
While the VA already covers veterinary care for service dogs that assist blind or deaf veterans and those with mobility restrictions caused by a physical disability, this is the first time the benefit is being extended to veterans whose primary diagnosis is a mental health disorder.
Dr. Harold Kudler, Chief Medical Consultant for the Veterans Health Administration, said many mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder can limit a sufferer’s mobility.
The VA veterinary service benefit includes the cost of travel to get the dog and veterinary care and equipment such as harnesses or backpacks for the animal, comprehensive wellness and sick care (annual visits for preventive care, maintenance care, immunizations, dental cleanings, screenings, etc.), urgent/emergent care, prescription medications, and care for illnesses or disorders when treatment enables the dog to perform its duties in service to the Veteran.
The veteran is responsible for the costs of food, over-the-counter medications, grooming, boarding and any other dog-related expenses.
Additional information about the VA’s service dog program can be found here.