Service dogs used to help veterans wit post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will no longer be paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Federal Register reported that the VA has amended its regulations concerning service dogs, allowing for those with visual, hearing or mobility impairments to still have benefits for service dogs but not for those with mental disabilities.
The Benefits of Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD
Paws for Purple Hearts is a program that pairs veterans with PTSD with Labrador and golden retrievers. The veterans have a dog for six weeks, training it to be a service dog for a physically disabled veteran. But according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, the veterans with PTSD receive benefits from working with the dogs. Besides the obvious benefit of having the dog soothe anxiety, stress and tension, other benefits include:
- Having to praise the animals helps veterans overcome emotional numbness
- Teaching commands helps to develop communication skills
- Reinforces assertive rather than aggressive behavior
- Possible increase oxytocin levels which improves trust, reading facial expressions and overcoming paranoia
- Alert the veteran to the onset of an anxiety attack
Having a service dog nearby allows veterans to slowly let down their guard. Many veterans with PTSD become hypervigilant, always feeling as if there is a threat nearby. For some, knowing the service dog will remain aware, even while they are sleeping, helps them relax and enjoy life again.
The Department of Veterans Affair Position
Even with documented benefits such as these, financial assistance for service dogs for veterans with PTSD will stop as of Oct. 5, 2012. According to the VA,” The VA has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness. Until such a determination can be made, the VA cannot justify providing benefits for mental health service dogs.” 
Organizations That Help
There are a number of organizations which are working toward pairing veterans with PTSD with service dogs and although this ruling will make it more difficult for veterans, at least some of the organizations plan on continuing. Lindsey Stanek, CEO of Paws and Stripes, told ABC News that although the ruling is a setback, her organization will continue to work as a veteran’s advocate, “We’re going to keep moving forward, hoping that the VA will open its eyes to this issue.” 
Organizations working with service dogs for veterans with PTSD will rely on private donations more than ever.
To contact an organization and make a donation or find out more:
If you know of additional organizations working to train service dogs to help veterans with PTSD, please add a comment and provide some information about the organization.