A key piece of legislation that United Spinal Association’s VetsFirst program has advocated for is one step closer to being signed into law.
The Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act (H.R. 1154), was approved as an amendment to another bill, which recently passed the House. This amendment will ensure that all veterans with disabilities who use service dogs are able to access VA facilities.
“This is an important legal clarification for every veteran who uses a service dog,” says John Carter, co-chairman of the House Army Caucus who introduced The Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act. “When this becomes law, veterans will have the unquestioned right to use their medical service dog in VA facilities under the same rules as those acknowledged for seeing-eye dogs. This is already the practice in many facilities today through administrative policy, but this law permanently codifies those policies in all facilities.”
In the past, the only dogs fully-protected by law to enter all VA facilities were guide dogs, which are used by people with vision problems. The VA has left it up to each facility’s discretion whether or not to permit access to service dogs.
A few months ago, VetsFirst reported on one U.S. Army veteran’s frustration of being turned away from a VA facility because of his service dog. Kevin Stone was denied Inpatient Services at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia and missed important medical appointments because officials said his dog Mambo presented too many risks to let in.
For many veterans like Stone, service dogs are critical to greater quality of life and independence. Service dogs are beneficial to veterans living with a variety of disabilities, including hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, seizures, and mobility issues. VetsFirst believes that exempting guide dogs but not service dogs from VA property will lead to unequal protection for veterans and all people with disabilities.
The advocacy efforts of Congressman Carter, VetsFirst, AMVETS and others, was instrumental in the VA releasing new directives this past Spring in an attempt to resolve access issues. Each VA medical center now has a service dog policy that veterans may request.
We would like to know what you think of the policies and if you are hearing of any problems. VetsFirst will continue to fight to ensure that access is not a problem for veterans.
Heather Ansley, Esq., MSW
Director Veterans Policy
VetsFirst, a program of United Spinal Association