Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) are denied service dogs by The Department of Veterans Affairs. The decision was published in the Federal Register on September 6, 2012.
Most of us don’t know about the Federal Register and how it passes administrative regulations that become law. I’d spent thirteen years with the Department of Defense (DoD) before I became intimately familiar with the Federal Register while working at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC.
I won’t bore you with a long explanation of how the system works. (It’s government we’re talking about and the details go on forever.) Suffice it to say, it’s an Administrative Procedure Act and government agencies are permitted to present detailed rules and regulations to the Federal Register and the public is allowed to comment. Unfortunately, the public is rarely aware the rules and regulations have been presented or that there even is such a process.
Congress considers itself too busy and congested—or perhaps gridlocked—to micromanage the jurisdiction of governmental agencies by writing statues to cover every foreseeable contingency.
The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) published a sixty-seven page final draft of rules covering how the VA justified its decision. The VA cited “nationally established” and “widely accepted” training protocols for sight, hearing, and mobility-assisted dogs and the lack of similar training protocols for mental health dogs.
The VA will pay service-dog benefits to veterans with vision, hearing, or mobility-related injuries but not to veterans suffering only from post-traumatic-stress-disorder and other mental health disabilities.
I’m appalled by this administrative ruling. Research is available that proves the calming affect dogs have on patients in both nursing homes and hospice settings. Many assisted living facilities now allow residents to have their pets with them. The benefits are proving to far out-weigh any problems.
It’s a grave mistake to deny veterans with PTSD or any other mental disorder the benefit of having a service dog.
It continues to sadden me that a government study found veterans suffering from PTSD along with physical pain are twice as likely to get prescriptions for addictive painkillers than vets with only physical pain. I would like to know the cost benefit analysis, if there is one, comparing the cost of prescribed narcotics for veterans with PTSD vs. allowing them the benefit of a service dog.
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with PTSD who already have a substance abuse problem are four times more likely to get addictive pain killers than veterans without mental health problems, according to a government study.
Veterans with PTSD speak openly of what service dogs do for them: surveying darkened rooms, turning on lights, re-orienting their owner during nightmares or flashbacks, navigating through crowds, sensing anxiety, enforcing boundaries for personal space and retrieving a cell phone. Most important, a dog provides unconditional love and companionship.
My opinion is that even an untrained dog can be a therapeutic dog. Those of you who read my series on traumatic brain injuries: may remember the important part our shih tzu, Teddy, played in keeping my husband, Tom, safe.Teddy had no formal training. We’d rescued him from a shelter in Washington, DC, after he’d being seriously abused. It seems our unconditional love was all Teddy needed to become a highly-trained service dog.
From the moment Tom came home from the hospital with fifty-five years of his memory erased by a medical procedure, Teddy refused to leave his side. I never had to look for Teddy. If Tom was sleeping, our little white dog was glued to his side. If Tom was in his recliner, Teddy was there. I’d have to pick Teddy up and take him outside. He no longer roamed the gardens with me or made our routine rounds twice a day to fill bird and wild critter feeders. He’d always hung out with me, but now Teddy had a new job.
Through the years, Tom and I both have found joy and comfort with our rescue shih tzus. Teddy passed on in 2004 and I was convinced I’d never love and cherish another dog the same way. I also worried as we’d lost Tom’s constant companion.
Months passed and we didn’t have a dog. Tom was in the hospital again. We’d recently moved to a small rural town in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas—it was time to get away from the hectic life of big cities and concrete jungles. We were fortunate in finding a home we loved next to a lake and serenity surrounded us. But our home was not complete. We didn’t have a dog. Tom was going to be in the hospital for a long time.
I needed a dog just as much as Tom did. The many months Tom had been in the hospital previously, I’d had Teddy at my side. He’d never left me alone. He was our own little warrior. How would I find another dog to fill our hearts and make our house a home?
How does our government expect our returning veterans to do what needs to be done to get their lives back on track?
I knew how to go to the shelter and make my way through the home inspection and fill out the papers and other items that were required to take on another rescue animal. Many of our veterans are unable to do this. The slamming of steel bars at the shelters can set off flashbacks. Some shelters are dark, a poor environment for both the pets and the veterans.
Most veterans don’t need a fully-trained service dog. They’d be happy to have a dog who would love them unconditionally. A dog who would give them a reason to get up and have a daily routine. It’s amazing the positive affects a dog brings into a lonely person’s life. But it’s more than just the unconditional love. When you walk down the street, people stop and talk with you and your pet. You meet other people at dog parks. Most important of all, you don’t commit suicide because who would take care of your dog?
Tom and I now have two rescue shih tzus and we love them dearly. We’ve moved from our lake house. After living in large metropolitan areas around the world, we recognized we needed a bit more excitement in our lives, but not a lot. You can find us most evenings, reading while we each hold our respective dog. It doesn’t get any better.