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Service Dogs for Service Members: Why the Red Tape?

June 09, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 106

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has red tape everywhere. Red tape in applying for benefits, red tape in appealing an adverse decision for benefits, and red tape in certifying a business as a service-disabled veteran-owned small business.

Until recently, I didn't realize that the VA has red tape in another area - affording service dogs to veterans. As of today's date, the VA has no system in place to pair veterans with service dogs.

The VA is, however, engaged in a step towards installing that system. As part of the Service Dog Veteran's Act, the VA is immersed in a research program designed to determine whether these animals can help veterans who suffer from mental health disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). This pilot program will use at least 200 dogs and veterans to assess the therapeutic value of the dogs for veterans with physical and mental injuries.

The initial question is obvious. Why would the VA need to conduct its own research program to determine whether a service dog would be helpful to a veteran? Aren't there studies out there that confirm or disprove that? Why the extra red tape?

Here's the problem. Yes, maybe the VA is creating an unnecessary burden here. Veterans are not the only individuals who suffer from PTSD and TBI, and service dogs have been used to help these other individuals before. But at the same time, if the VA plans to ultimately install a system for providing service dogs to veterans, it must verify the method, procedure, and tools for the training.

Because the VA wants to take this precaution, it is currently engaged in a research project rather than actually providing (or collaborating to provide) service dogs to veterans. The result is that in the meantime, thousands of veterans are in desperate need of service dogs because non-profit providers can't meet the needs of every veteran. Training a dog can take years and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Also, these organizations are often limited to only providing dogs to veterans within a certain mile radius, as the veteran is generally required to train with the dog several times a week.

When I first heard about these unmet needs of those who served our country, I was angry with the VA. I asked myself why the VA wasn't doing more to help veterans. If a veteran needs a service dog because that veteran was brave enough to serve our country, he shouldn't have to jump through any hoops to receive one. The dog should show up on his doorstep, groomed, housebroken, and wearing a bow in the veteran's favorite color.

But this assumes that the VA has the money for every veteran to get a dog. This is far from the reality of the situation, which leads to the second problem preventing the VA from providing service dogs: you can't squeeze blood from a turnip.

The VA's resources are overburdened and strained to the breaking point. With all of our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the mounting number of outstanding disability compensation claims (currently at one million) and veterans in need of medical care, the VA system cannot support everything that is needed for our veterans. That's the sad truth, and this problem is just one more example.

Maybe it's not just the red tape to blame after all.

To access the full text of the Service Dog Veteran's Act, visit: For more articles and resources pertinent to veterans, visit Sarah Schauerte's website at

Source: EzineArticles
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