VA Expanding Service Dog Benefits
The proposed rule clarifies that veterinary-care benefits are authorized and sets up a clear procedure for VA to award those benefits.
A new rule from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expands the benefits for service dogs employed by eligible veterans. It also explains the impairments for which service dogs are approved by the department; VA asked for comments by Aug. 15.
VA will authorize benefits only if the veteran is diagnosed as having a visual, hearing, or substantial mobility impairment, and it will require "a clinical determination by a VA clinician, which would be based upon the clinician's medical judgment that 'it is optimal for the veteran to manage such impairment and live independently through the assistance of a trained service dog.' By this," according to the rule, "we intend to exclude situations in which a VA clinician's medical judgment indicates that there are means other than a dog, such as technological devices or rehabilitative techniques, which would enable and encourage the veteran to live independently."
It defines substantial mobility impairment as "a spinal cord injury or dysfunction or other chronic impairment that substantially limits mobility." The rule states that VA will interpret chronic impairment that substantially limits mobility "to include, but not be limited to, disabilities such as a traumatic brain injury that compromises the ability to make appropriate decisions based on environmental cues such as traffic lights or a seizure disorder that renders a veteran immobile during and after a seizure event."
In paragraph (d)(1) of the rule, VA will provide an insurance policy to every eligible veteran that will pay for veterinary care. VA would pay all premiums, copays, or deductibles associated with these policies.
"We believe that providing service dogs under the statute necessarily includes providing veterinary treatment and hardware, and repairs to such hardware, required by the dog to perform in service to the veteran. Consistent with this interpretation of our statutory authority, we propose to authorize payments for the care of service dogs that will help maintain the dogs' ability to perform as service dogs," the agency stated. "However, we would not provide assistance for additional expenses such as license tags, non-prescription food, grooming, insurance for personal injury, non-sedated dental cleanings, nail trimming, boarding, pet sitting or dog walking services, over-the-counter medications, or other goods and services not expressly prescribed by regulation."
Submit comments via www.regulations.gov; comments should indicate that they are submitted in response to "RIN 2900-AN51 -- Service Dogs."