VA has a long history of providing veterinary health benefits to significantly disabled Veterans who require and use a service or guide dog to mitigate their hearing, vision and/or mobility limitations. Currently, more than 600 Veterans with visual, hearing, or mobility impairments due to physical disabilities receive this benefit.
Many Veterans face problems in daily living due to mental health conditions that are not specific to any one diagnosis. A mobility service dog may help that Veteran negotiate these difficult situations in order to live a fuller, more satisfying life,” says Dr. Harold Kudler, VA’s chief consultant for mental health. The hope is that Veterans paired with a mobility service dog will experience improvement despite the fact that the mental health condition has been refractory to other treatment interventions.
Under an innovative pilot program, up to 100 Veterans with mobility impairments secondary to a mental health condition may be eligible for the benefit. The pilot program is coordinated and administered through Veterans Health Administration’s Center for Compassionate Innovation.
Veterans with substantial mobility limitations associated with a mental health disorder for which the service dog has been identified as the optimal way to address the mobility impairment may be eligible for the benefit that provides comprehensive coverage for health and wellness, prescription medication and dental care necessary to enable the dog to perform its duties in service to the Veteran.
The benefit also covers other needed expenses such as travel associated with training sessions with the mobility service dog, and essential equipment (e.g., harness). While VA does not provide Veterans with service or guide dogs, the veterinary health benefit provides the financial means for eligible Veterans to integrate a service dog into their lives.
To participate in the pilot, the Veteran’s interdisciplinary treatment team will evaluate and determine whether or not the mental health condition is primary in the Veteran’s significant mobility limitations. The team will also assess whether a mobility service dog would be the optimal intervention or treatment approach for the Veteran.
To learn more about the Service Dog Veterinary Health Benefit, including how to apply to receive the benefit, contact Prosthetics and Sensory Aid Services at VHAPSASClinicalSupportTeam@va.gov. To learn more about the Mental Health Mobility Service Dog Benefit Pilot, contact the VHA Center for Compassionate Innovation at VHACCISD@va.gov.
Additional information about VA’s service dog program can be found at http://www.prosthetics.va.gov/ServiceAndGuideDogs.asp
Mary Beth Foglia is an experienced health care ethicist and health services evaluator who joined the National Center for Ethics in Health Care in 2001. She has expertise in organizational and empirical ethics, and has published across a range of ethics topics including priority setting, disclosure of large scale adverse events, ethical leadership, and professional boundaries. Dr. Foglia is affiliate faculty in the Department of Bioethics and Humanities, School of Medicine and the Department of Health Services, School of Public Health at the University of Washington in Seattle.