Federal Issue Brief

 S. 1838, VA Service Dog Training Pilot Program

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AVMA Position:

No Action

Summary:

Introduced by Senator Max Baucus (MT), S. 1838 directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) 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: 

  • The training would occur on premises of VA facilities.
  • Dogs participating may come from shelter or foster situations. 
  • Veterans must meet certain eligibility criteria. 
  • Must give special consideration when choosing VA location to sites in rural or highly-rural states.
  • Requirements for reporting on feasibility and advisability of extending or expanding program.

Justification:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Status:

Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, legislative hearing occurred on June 27, 2012.

AVMA Contact:

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