VA Dogged By Revived Bills Seeking Service Animals for PTSD Patients

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON—VA pushed back against congressional bills under consideration last month that would create new pilot programs related to dog therapy.

The McGuire VAMC in Richmond, VA, works with several accredited therapy dog agencies to bring the program to inpatient units at the center. The program has existed at McGuire for over 20 years. Now, proposed congressional bills seek to enable service dogs for veterans with PTSD. VA photo by Steve Goetsch

“We do not believe that creating yet another program would add significant value. VA is already helping veterans to obtain service dogs when that best supports their recovery,” said VHA Acting Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Patient Care Services Harold Kudler, MD, who noted that DoD and VA already have similar pilot programs in place.

Kudler made his comments at a recent House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing on two bills related to dog therapy that were reintroduced from previous congressional sessions.

HR 2327, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act, would direct the VA to carry out a five-year pilot program to provide grants to select organizations that pair veterans suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with service dogs. To be eligible for the pilot, the veteran must have completed traditional therapies for PTSD and remain symptomatic.

“By propagating a yet-unproven therapy, the bill may result in unintended and negative consequences for the veterans who would be participating in this unsubstantiated treatment regime,” Kudler said in a written statement. “Also the pilot program would be duplicative of an existing VA research study on the effectiveness of service dogs and emotional support dogs for veterans with PTSD.”HR 2225 would require VA to pilot a program in which eligible veterans learn how to train service dogs. As part of the pilot, VA would have to collect data on the effectiveness and mental health outcomes for those veterans participating. Kudler explained that, “although anecdotal evidence has been offered to show the benefits of participating in such a dog training therapy program, there is no published scientific evidence to date that shows that such a program benefits PTSD patients specifically or that such a resource-intensive program is any better than therapies known to be effective in alleviating PTSD symptoms.”

He also said that “the pilot program would be duplicative of a DoD study of this same therapy program at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.”

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Comments (2)

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  1. M S Lewis says:

    We have seen that the majority of veterans with a service-connected condition do not have PTSD. The “dog” is viewed by many veterans as a badge of honor that others will recognize. The VA provides these individuals with a lot of “disability” compensation that is tax-free and available to use for healthcare related needs. Thus, the service animal; develop an initiate a program that would encourage veterans to contribute to significantly cost of appropriate service animals’ training, medical care, and maintenance. Veterans can by Harley’s, travel, etc with their “disability” compensation. The government is not responsible for every aspect of a veterans life; the veteran is and Congress certainly is aware of this.

  2. fred will MD says:

    Historically Dogs have been used to aid and serve Veterans.
    For complex situations such as blindness and mobility , no one would question this use.

    In the case of PTSD and especially Military Sexual Trauma these dogs save lives. No there are no double blind, multi year studies. However common sense sometimes supersedes highly controlled and expensive statistical methodology. WHERE IS THE HARM, AND IF THE LIFE OF ONE VETERAN IS SAVED WHY ARE WE NOT DOING THIS?

    The dogs Ideally should be as young as 18 months and rescue animals. Only basic training is necessary and even that can be done at little or no expense to the VA.

    I have certified hundreds of people for service dogs specifically for their PTSD under ADA guidelines.

    There is a healing synergy here.
    If you care for your dog you will care for yourself.
    If you walk your dog you will end the social isolation that is such a risk factor for suicide.

    Frederic B Will MD FAPA

    [email protected]

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