Legion submits comments on service dogs
U.S. Marine Corps photo

Legion submits comments on service dogs

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is amending its regulations and policies concerning service guide dogs for veterans and many American Legion members have contacted The American Legion Headquarters in Washington, DC. Below is a list of comments posted on Federal Register Volume 76, Number 116: FR Doc No: 2011-14933.

The American Legion National Headquarters has received numerous calls and correspondence with concerns with VA's proposed rule for 38 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) Part 17. These comments are submitted in response to "RIN 2099-AN51-Service Dogs."

Below is a list of The American Legion concerns:

• Proposed paragraph (b) would establish clinical requirements to obtain service-dog benefits. To summarize, it would authorize benefits for visual, hearing, or substantial mobility impairment, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury and does not establish criterion for mental health purposes. Furthermore, it states a clinical determination and medical judgment must conclude it is optimal for the veteran to manage such impairment and live independently through the assistance of a trained service dog. It also states a provider's medical judgment can determine if other technological devices or rehabilitative therapy can be used in the place of service dogs. Comments: Eligibility for a veteran being issued a service dog is loosely defined and relies on clinical judgment and criterion is not provided in this regulation.

• Proposed paragraph (c) would establish criteria for obtaining a service dog recognized under this section for purposes of obtaining benefits. Under paragraphs (c) (1) and (2), VA would recognize service dogs obtained through an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) or the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF). Comments: On the Assistance Dogs International (ADI) website, it states: "The three types of Assistance Dogs are Guide Dogs for the blind and visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing and service dogs for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing. Although Guide Dogs for the blind have been trained formally for over seventy years, training dogs for physically and/or mentally disabled individuals is a much more recent concept. The concern is that the original Congressional intent of 38 U.S.C. Section 1714 was that VA provide service dogs for the aid of persons with mental illnesses. Under the proposal rule, VA would contract with ADI, an organization that does not specify the type of psychiatric training service dogs receive. In addition, there are several companies that provide service dogs or training for service dogs (i.e. Psychiatric Service Dog Society, American Vet Dogs, Puppies Behind Bars "Dog Tags: Service Dogs for Those Who've Served Us") specifically for veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which are not included in the proposed rule. • In 2009, Congress authorized VA to provide service dogs for the aid of persons with mental illnesses by amending section 1714. Although VA welcomes the possibility that trained dogs may provide valuable services to veterans diagnosed with certain mental illness, at this time VA does not have any scientific data to determine, from a purely clinical standpoint, whether or when service dogs are most appropriately provided to veterans with mental illness, including post traumatic stress disorder. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, Pub. L. 111-84 (2009), Congress mandated a 3-year study on the effectiveness of dogs for mental health purposes. The results of this study will help VA learn more about the services that trained dogs can provide for veterans. Upon the completion of the study and analysis of its results, VA may revise its regulations in order to provide this service to our veterans. Comments: We remain concerned that VA is writing regulations on policies concerning issuance of service dogs for psychological health conditions without first completing and publishing the results of the 3-year study on effectiveness of dogs for mental health purposes. This will limit VA's ability to work with several companies that specialize in service dogs for treatment of psychiatric illnesses for the 3-year pilot study and issuance of service dogs or service dog training thereafter.• Proposed Paragraph (c) Accreditation of guide-dog programs is done by International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF), with whom Assistance Dog International (ADI) has a joint protocol. ADI will only accredit guide-dog programs if they are also involved in training service dogs, and even then ADI accredits only that portion of the training related to service dogs-IGDF accredits the guide-dog portion. IDGF does not accredit any non-guide dog programs. Comments: Once again, IGDF and ADI do not have training and accreditation standards for psychiatric and mental disorders (specifically, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder) and how can VA rely on accreditation from only one company that does not specialize in these medical conditions.