On November 11, American Humane Association will join the nation in recognizing our veterans of the armed forces, and honoring the service of our soldiers and their sacrifices. Veterans returning from the hot sands of Iraq or Afghanistan or even the rice fields of Vietnam share a common bond, and often bring home unique challenges due to their service experience.
Today, rising suicide rates are evident with record rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in our veteran population. How significant is this crisis? Today, the suicide rate has grown to nearly one per day, dramatically higher than in prior years. And yet an inexpensive, reliable, drug-free alternative exists – one that offers so much healing power. This is where Man’s Best Friend – for thousands of years in fact – comes into the picture. Hero dogs for hero soldiers, or Wags4Warriors as we call our initiative, brings together service dogs for returning soldiers suffering from the mental wounds of the battlefields.
But this past October, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cut off funding to provide service dogs to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Federal law currently states that the VA can reimburse veterans for the cost of owning a service dog if a doctor agrees, but the new policy would limit that reimbursement only to those with physical disabilities. That made Jim Hogan, a veteran with his service dog, Atticus, angry and for good reason. Jim had served his country with valor and honor – and as a disabled veteran, he now requires the assistance of a service dog. American Humane Association promptly called on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reverse the policy. The exclusion of veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental disabilities would continue pending the results of an internal VA study, which will not be completed until 2014. Two years is two years too long for veterans afflicted by PTSD to wait.
We applaud and join the efforts of NY Senator Charles Schumer in his call to overturn this policy and allow physicians to decide if a service dog can be of benefit in the treatment of their patients. We urge the VA to consider the extraordinary and immeasurable value therapy dogs provide to our service men and women when they return from the battlefields and will work with Senator Schumer and the new Congress to find the best and most expedient solution to ensure these brave soldiers the invaluable benefit service dogs can bring to their lives.
American Humane Association’s focus on animal-assisted therapy dates back to 1945 when we promoted therapy dogs as a means to help World War II veterans recover from the effects of war. We know from years of experience that the human-animal bond is a source of powerful healing, whether they are children suffering from cancer or military men and women who have suffered the stress of battle. Service dogs, in particular, are an amazing, positive resource for assisting our nation’s best and bravest though their physical pain and mental anguish. We call on the VA and the United States Congress to stand up for our veterans and their families by continuing to reimburse veterans who suffer from PTSD for the cost of medically approved service dogs.
Let’s ensure in the year ahead that returning veterans receive trained service dogs so that the power of the human-animal bond can work its healing magic. Giving veterans the unconditional love of a service dog is the least we can do. Let’s do it for Jim and Atticus and all those in need who have served their country before another Veterans Day passes.