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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 26, 2011

SCHUMER: V.A. DRAGGING ITS FEET IN PROVIDING DISABLED VETS WITH SERVICE DOGS AS AUTHORIZED BY LAW; LI’S AMERICA’S VETDOGS COULD PROVIDE THOUSANDS OF DOGS TO VETS ACROSS THE COUNTRY


V.A. Failing to Implement Law Authorizing Service Dogs be Provided to Disabled Vets –Veterans Have Not Received Service Dogs, Which Are Crucial to Aiding Suffering Vets

Schumer: Implementing Program Would Be a Win for Vets and a Win for LI’s Own “America’s VetDogs”, One of America’s Largest Providers of Service Dogs to Veterans

Schumer: Our Vets Deserve Speedy Implementation of Long Overdue Service Dog Program

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to quickly implement the service dog program in light of reports that, despite legislation passed by Congress in 2002 and 2010 authorizing the VA to provide service dogs to the disabled, dogs have not been provided to at-need vets. Schumer noted that service dogs provide an invaluable service to disabled vets, and that one of America’s premier service dog breeders and trainers, America’s VetDogs based in Smithtown, Long Island, could supply many of the new dogs that should be provided to vets. Schumer, in a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shineski, joined Senators Franken, Harkin, Sessions, Graham, Begich, Rockefeller, and Hagan, in urging the V.A. to quickly implement the service dog program so disabled veterans can have access to the service dogs they are authorized by law to have.  According to America’s Vet Dogs, over 200 veterans are on a “waiting list” to receive service dogs from the organization.
 
“Anyone who has ever seen a service dog at work knows how valuable they can be, as a companion and a helping hand, and nothing can be more valuable than helping a wounded veteran in need. But unfortunately, the VA has been dragging its feet in implementing this program, meaning thousands of veterans aren’t getting the dogs they deserve,” said Schumer. “Fully implementing the service dog program, as required by law, will be a win for our vets and also a win for Long Island, bringing business to America’s VetDogs, one of America’s premier providers of service dogs.”
 
Service dogs are highly skilled animals that help their human companions live independent and productive lives. Whether it’s helping a wounded veteran turn on a light, bringing a ringing telephone to the veteran’s wheelchair, or calming an incipient panic attack, everyday tasks that seem impossible can become achievable with a service dog. Congress passed legislation in 2002 authorizing the VA to provide service dogs to deaf or hard of hearing veterans, along with those with spinal cord injuries or other chronic disabling conditions that substantially limit mobility. In 2010, Congress passed legislation directing the VA to immediately begin the process of assisting veterans with mental illnesses, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), who would benefit from having a service dog, and separate legislation mandated a study on the subject.
 
However, an audit conducted by the VA’s inspector general found that implementation of the service dog program only began in 2008 – six years after the authorizing legislation was enacted. The audit also found that only eight veterans had been awarded financial support in the form of veterinary care and medication for their service dogs, and VA had not provided service dogs to wounded veterans.
 
Schumer, in a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shineski, urged the VA to quickly implement the service dog program so that all disabled veterans have access to the dogs they need and deserve. In the letter, Schumer also asked Shineski a series of detailed questions meant to uncover what, if any, steps the VA is taking to remedy their lack of implementation of the service dog program.
 
Schumer said that fully implementing the service dog program would also be a win for Long Island, bringing business to America's VetDogs, a not-for-profit organization based in Smithtown, that has provided free guide dogs and training to our country's veterans for over 7 years. Schumer said that the lives of thousands - including disabled service members - have been immeasurably enriched by these highly-trained animals. He also noted that the organization has received public recognition from the Secretary of the Army for its "exceptional service", which includes combat stress control, physical and occupational therapy, and emotional therapy. Schumer said that America’s VetDogs could be crucial in meeting the increased demand for service dogs that will result from the full implementation of the service dog program.  
 
A copy of the letter sent to the VA is below.
 


Dear Secretary Shinseki:
 
We are writing with regard to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Guide and Service Dog Program.  Public Law 107-135, passed in 2002, authorized the Secretary of VA to provide service dogs to deaf or hard of hearing veterans, along with those with spinal cord injuries or other chronic disabling conditions that substantially limit mobility. In 2010, Congress passed legislation directing VA to immediately begin the process of assisting veterans with mental illnesses, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), who would benefit from having a service dog, and separate legislation mandated a study on the subject. We respectfully request a full progress report on VA’s efforts to pair veterans with service dogs.
 
As you likely know, service dogs are highly skilled animals that help their human companions live independent and productive lives.  Whether it be helping a wounded veteran turn on a light, bringing a ringing telephone to the veteran’s wheelchair, or calming an incipient panic attack, everyday tasks that seem impossible can become achievable with a service dog.
 
As directed by Congress, the VA’s Inspector General conducted an audit of the Guide and Service Dog Program, completed in July 2010.  The audit confirmed that VA only began implementation of the service dog program in 2008 – six years after the authorizing legislation was enacted.  Furthermore, it found that since then only eight veterans had been awarded financial support in the form of veterinary care and medication for their service dogs.  Our understanding is that VA itself has not funded the provision of a single service dog to a wounded veteran.
 
We commend VA for the progress made since July to implement a more robust Guide and Service Dog Program.  For example, we understand progress has been made toward finalizing formal regulations exercising VHA’s authority under 38 U.S.C §1714(c).  We also understand that VA recently held a conference to educate VA clinicians about the service and assistance dog industry, the role of accreditation, and how the dogs are trained. 
 
Although there have been significant steps forward since July, much remains to be done.  In an effort to better understand VA’s progress in implementing the service dog program since last year’s audit, we ask you to supply detailed responses to the following questions: 
 
1.      Please detail the programs in place to increase the number of veterans receiving service dogs.  How many veterans with hearing or mobility impairments have been provided funding by the VA for veterinary care and equipment since July 2010?
 
2.      The conference agreement for the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010 provided $2 million in Medical Services for the Guide and Service Dog Program, and additional funds for necessary studies and the IG’s review. Please detail the level of funds that have been provided, and for which specific purposes, to pair service dogs with veterans. Is it true that zero dollars have been provided to veterans by VA to obtain service dogs?  If so, why?
 
3.      The audit found that knowledge of service dogs at VA medical centers was incomplete and inconsistent.  What is VA doing to remedy that situation?
 
4.      According to the audit, VA personnel have stated that the actual demand for service dogs is unknown. What is VA doing to remedy that situation?
 
5.      The conference agreement for the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010 recognized the importance of VA’s effort to advance its partnerships with accredited nonprofit organizations with expertise in the training of service dogs and education in the use of service dogs. What is VA doing to advance those partnerships?
 
6.      Please describe what steps you have taken to implement the study, mandated in Public Law 111-84, to assess benefits, feasibility, and advisability of using service dogs for the treatment or rehabilitation of veterans with physical or mental injuries.  What is the projected timetable for providing service dogs to enough veterans in order to carry out the study? 
 
Given the invaluable support that service dogs can provide to our wounded veterans, we strongly encourage the Department to work quickly to more fully and successfully implement the service dog program. 

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