Steps for Veterans to Get a Service Dog
Unfortunately, many veterans suffer from a variety of disabilities after returning to civilian life. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has reported that approximately 30% of veterans experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from experiencing war and/or assault.
Other veterans may have sustained an injury during their time in the military, or experience vision or hearing loss. If a veteran is experiencing significant physical, mental, or mobile limitations in their day-to-day life due to these disabilities, they may qualify for a Service Dog or an ESA. More on qualifying for an emotional support animal here.
The VA has developed a program to provide qualified veterans with service dogs. Upon diagnosis of either a physical or mental disability, a veteran can apply to have a service dog that will be covered under veteran benefits.
In order to obtain a service dog through the VA, the veteran needs to follow these steps.
- Meet with a Health Provider
- Adopt and Train your Service Dog
- Apply for VA Benefits
1. Meet with a VA health provider
In order to qualify for a service dog, a veteran must be diagnosed with a disability. The Veteran may choose to work with a health provider through the Department of Veteran Affairs or outside of the VA.
The Veteran’s disability can be either physical or mental in nature. The health provider will evaluate the individual’s specific physical limitations to determine the best method of assistance. If the provider believes that a service dog will be the best form of treatment for the veteran, they will request the benefit through the local Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service. The Prosthetic and Sensory Aids service will make the final decision by approving or disapproving the request.
The Veteran can also choose to work with a medical provider to determine their need for a Service Dog on their own. They are not bound by the VA as they are civilians now and can seek out solutions that work best for them.
2. Adopt and train a service dog
If the service dog application is approved, the dog needs to have the proper temperament and the ability to perform tasks needed to assist with the diagnosed disability. The VA doesn’t provide service dogs to veterans, but will often refer the veteran to accredited agencies, such as Assistance Dog International (ADI), that will raise and train service dogs that meet VA standards.
The VA also provides veterans the opportunity to train their own service dogs, if they so choose.
There are no required registrations or documentation that needs to be completed, but the dog still needs to meet the same standards that an agency-trained dog would meet. This includes ensuring the dog has the proper temperament, follows the desired commands, and is able to work in public around distractions.
If the Veteran has adopted and trained their Service Dog themselves, they have the option to register their service dog in a national database and order a custom Service Dog ID card along with a vest for their newly minted Service Dog.
3. Apply for VA Veterinary Health Benefits
Upon approval for a service dog, veterans can now have their service dog enrolled in Veterinary Health Benefits. These benefits includes comprehensive treatment and wellness checks, emergency care, immunizations, and illness treatment for the dog that will be serving the veteran. This is to ensure that the service dog remains in good health to best serve the veteran. They will also provide the proper equipment needed for the dog, such as a harness or vest. VA Health Benefits do not cover medications, food, or grooming assistance that is unrelated to the health of the dog.
Service dogs have proven to increase independence and provide feelings of comfort and safety for veterans that are suffering from debilitating disabilities. Service dogs aren’t pets to these individuals, but are working animals that have a strong desire to please their owners.
While not all dogs have the ability to become qualified as service dogs, those who do can make life-altering differences for their owners.
To register your Service Dog and order your Service Dog Certification, click on the link below.