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.”

1 2 3

Share Your Thoughts