Target: Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki
Goal: Include post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying disability for veterans to receive service dog benefits
According to new federal regulations, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will only pay for service dogs assigned to veterans with impaired vision, hearing, or mobility, but it will not cover the cost of dogs assigned for mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Please sign this petition and urge the VA to provide service dog benefits for veterans with mental illnesses.
The VA says it excludes service dog benefits for veterans with mental illnesses, including PTSD, because it “has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness. Until such a determination can be made, VA cannot justify providing benefit for mental health service dogs.” Despite a lack of clinical research trials, there is evidence that service dogs help to manage symptoms of PTSD. According to Hal Herzog, a psychology professor at Western Carolina University, “Research shows that when people focus on petting a dog, it can increase oxytocin, a chemical that quiets the brain’s fear response. Caring for a pet also helps people become more secure and self-sufficient.”
Rick Yount, founder of Warrior Canine Connection, an organization that has PTSD patients train service dogs, says that training service dogs can also be a form of therapy. Yount cites a 2008 training program at a veterans’ hospital where many participants reported lower stress levels, decreased depression, better impulse control and improved sleep. Some of the tasks that dogs performed to assist veterans with PTSD include: surveying dark rooms, turning on lights, reorienting their owners during nightmares or flashbacks, navigating through crowds, sensing anxiety, enforcing boundaries for personal space, retrieving items, and reminding their owners to take medications.
Please sign this petition and urge the VA to provide service dogs for veterans coping with mental illnesses such as PTSD. The answer is not always in a psychotropic drug and all avenues for improved quality of life should be investigated.
Dear Mr. Shinseki,
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ recent decision to withhold service dog benefits from veterans with mental illnesses like PTSD is limiting their chances at managing symptoms. Anecdotal evidence and expert opinions in support of this therapeutic intervention must be considered when determining the value of the dogs. I am writing to urge you to include the option of service dogs for both visible ailments, as well as “invisible” ailments.
With PTSD being one of the most prevalent ailments among veterans, it is important that every possible avenue for symptom management be investigated and explored for each individual. PTSD is not a textbook illness, but rather affects everyone differently. By withholding service dog benefits, the VA is unethically treating veterans. It is the job of the VA’s service providers to individually develop a treatment plan for each veteran by providing them with as many interventions as are available.
Service dogs are trained individually to help their owners lower stress levels, decrease depression, control impulses and improve sleep patterns. Some of the tasks dogs perform to assist veterans with PTSD include: surveying dark rooms, turning on lights, reorienting their owners during nightmares or flashbacks, navigating through crowds, sensing anxiety, enforcing boundaries for personal space, retrieving items, and reminding their owners to take medications.
Please rethink the decision to withhold benefits from veterans and provide service dogs for veterans who need them, regardless of the visibility of the disease.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: nextgov.com via Yahoo