Federal Issue Brief

 H.R. 2074, Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention and Health Care Enhancement Act

PDF fileView PDF version

AVMA Position:

No Action

Summary:

Introduced by Congresswoman Anne Marie Buerkle (NY-25th), H.R. 2074 includes the following language:
  • Section 5: Prohibits the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) from restricting the use of service dogs in or on any VA facility or property or any facility or property that receives VA funding. 
  • Section 6: Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program for assessing the effectiveness of addressing post-deployment mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms through a therapeutic medium of service dog training and handling for veterans with disabilities.

Background:

Section 5:

  • There have been reports of service dogs being denied access to VA facilities in the media.
  • Currently seeing-eye dogs have full access to VA facilities, but service dogs used for other purposes may not. 

Section 6:

  • The training would occur on premises of VA facilities.
  • Dogs participating may come from shelter or foster situations.
  • Veterans must meet certain eligibility criteria.
  • Requirements for reporting on feasibility and advisability of extending or expanding program.

Justification:

Section 5:

  • Service animals are animals trained to assist people with disabilities in the activities of normal living. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as "......any...animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals who are hearing impaired to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items."
  • Since the introduction of this legislation the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued a directive that requires VA facilities to create new policies allowing veterans who utilize VA-sanctioned service dogs for physical disabilities the same access afforded to seeing-eye and guide dogs. However, this directive expires in March 2016, and is seen as a temporary fix, not a permanent solution.
Section 6:
  • While the AVMA believes in the spirit of the legislation and supports the use of therapy dogs in certain circumstances, there is a noted absence of language that would ensure the well-being of the dogs engaged in the programs.
  • Use of “service” and “therapy” in relation to the dogs involved in this program lacks definition as well as consistency with established definitions for these terms.
  • The bill does not quantify the number of dogs that would be involved in the pilot program.
  • Requirements for the position of “director of service dog training” are not sufficient to ensure appropriate experience in not only training service dogs, but being able to transfer that knowledge to those with potential mental health issues while simultaneously protecting the welfare of dogs enrolled in the program.
  • The bill does not include information what will happen to the dogs after the pilot program is concluded. After care or post-program placement into home environments should be addressed.
  • There is no language requiring appropriate veterinary assessment and care for dogs selected for and enrolled in the program.

Current Status:

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Health. Legislative hearing 7/25/2011. Subcommittee mark-up on 7/28/2011, forwarded to full committee. Full committee mark-up 9/8/2011, ordered to be reported amended. Amended bill passed by House on 10/11/2011.

AVMA Contact:

Dr. Whitney L. Miller, Assistant Director, AVMA Governmental Relations Division, 202-289-3211.