The Veterans Administration posted a proposed
regulation change on 6/11/2011.
Here is the source Proposed Regulation:
Depending upon your point of view, you may find
reasons to post a comment about this proposed regulation change before
the 8/15/2011 deadline. I
recommend reading the whole document. It contains a number of
potential issues for veterans who want to acquire a Service Dog and
expect benefits from the VA for its use.
To post a comment about this proposal, you may go
Type in “RIN
2900-AN51—Service Dogs" in the search box, and you'll get
to a Submit Comment box.
Quoting from the proposal:
paragraph (c) would establish criteria for obtaining a service dog
recognized under this section for purposes of obtaining benefits.
Under paragraphs (c)(1) and (2), we would recognize service dogs
obtained through an organization that is accredited by Assistance Dogs
International (ADI) or the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF).
Proof of completion would be established by a certificate from the
organization. ADI is an international coalition of nonprofit
organizations that train and place service dogs. ADI has established
an accreditation procedure for service dog organizations, setting
minimum standards for safety and cleanliness of the training facility,
fair and ethical treatment of clients, proper health care for the
dogs, humane training methods, screening the suitability of dogs and
clients, matching dogs and clients, and compliance with all relevant
Let me say, right off the bat, I do not have any
issues with ADI as an organization. However, the new proposal limits
a disabled veteran's source for highly trained Service Dogs and
education for Service Dog handlers to a subset of all organizations
and companies in the country that provide Service Dogs.
One big issue that I see with the VA's proposed
regulation is that ADI only accredits not-for-profit
1. For-profit companies that may produce
exceptional Service Dogs will not be available to veterans who want to
use their VA benefits to acquire a SD for their disability.
This might include a local, private trainer who can partner directly
with a veteran during the training of the SD.
2. Costs associated with exclusively
Owner-Training will not be supported by VA benefits. Owner Trained
programs such as Committed Canine's T.E.A.C.H. may or may not be
supported by VA benefits. My experience is that, in particular
with psychiatric disabilities in veterans (for which SDs are not yet
covered by the VA pending a 3 year study), the act of participating in
the dog's training has an important therapeutic benefit for some
individuals. Also, in my experience, professionally guided, owner
training brings the handler into the training process sooner, which
can produce a more experienced handler who has developed the skills to
address behavioral issues of the SD sooner and more effectively. It
is unfortunate that these dogs may not be recognized by the VA (nor
will the veterinary upkeep or travel expenses of the handler to
maintain that upkeep be covered for an dog that doesn't come out of an
ADI member organization).
Also, from the proposed regulation change:
"The Secretary hereby certifies that this
proposed rule would not have a significant economic impact on a
substantial number of small entities as they are defined in the
Regulatory Flexibility Act,
5 U.S.C. 601-612. We believe that most service-dog providers that
provide dogs to veterans are already accredited in accordance with the
The assumption that "most service dog providers
that provide dogs to veterans are already accredited" is probably not
true. There are 75 organizations listed at the ADI website for USA.
Forty-four of them hold full accreditation and 32 hold "candidate"
status. Seven of those are Guide Dog exclusive. There are no
accredited service dog providers listed on the ADI website for the
Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, District of
Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine,
Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Rhode Island,
Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming and the ADI member organization
in New Jersey produces Guide Dogs, only. In case you don't want
to count them, that's 22 states!
So, some disabled veterans will have to travel
quite far from home to acquire a SD that the VA will acknowledge, even
if there is an organization or company closer to home that may be able
to offer better follow-up service due to geographical proximity to the
veteran's home. Some SD providers actually exclude students/handlers
from outside a specific geographical location, which makes sense if
they want to provide efficient follow-up care. But, it limits a
disabled veteran's access to ADI only accredited organizations.
Quoted from the proposed regulation:
"We do not believe that gaining accreditation
should result in a significant financial burden, as the standards for
approval by ADI and IGDF are reasonable thresholds that are generally
expected and accepted within the industry. The approximate cost to be
an accredited organization by IGDF is a one-time fee of $795, with an
annual fee of $318 and a per unit fee of $39.45. The approximate cost
to be an accredited organization by ADI is $1,000 every 5 years with
annual fees of approximately $50."
The $1000 application fee pays the ADI's
personnel to perform the inspection and review all of the supporting
documentation (and, I think that the organization seeking
accreditation must pay for the inspector's hotel and meals during the
multi-day inspection, as well). The cost to a company to maintain
compliance to the standards required (see
does not come free. To create and maintain the documentation, alone,
for compliance requires personnel to write, review and sign off on
such documentation. To suggest that the only cost to the company is
the application fee is outrageously short sighted, in my opinion.
Having spent nearly 20 years in a medical diagnostics company, I know
a bit about compliance. The FDA auditors used to use a phrase,
"Science isn't Compliance" - when we would try to make a point that
we have the well-documented scientific data to support a process, but
we were not in direct adherence to an FDA "rule". A small (one to
three person company) that provides high quality, professional
services, and spends most of their time training dogs and instructing
their handlers, would probably need to hire another employee to serve
as the compliance coordinator who would write and audit documents,
processes, employees and volunteers to support the ADI compliance
requirements, at least during the initial phase of seeking the
accreditation - if the company wanted to continue to use current
resources to train dogs and people. This is not to say that the
minimum requirements that ADI sets forth are not valuable, and in some
instances very necessary (and, in fact, are already in place if an
organization holds a state kennel license, for example, for the dogs
in their care, like Committed Canine does). But, "compliance" (which
is not necessarily the same as "high quality" - albeit, it often
is) does have a cost associated with it. The more a company earns,
the more the cost of compliance can be spread across those earnings.
When the company is smaller, the costs to audit and document
compliance per $1000 earned are significantly higher. Of course, a
small, for-profit dog training company will be totally excluded from
access to accreditation, since the ADI only accredits not-for-profit
corporations and the ADI is the only organization in the USA that the
VA proposes for accreditation. A small not-for-profit corporation
will have a difficult time securing the funds to gain ADI
certification, which is a five year process.
Quoted from the proposed regulation:
" The vast majority of accredited programs do not
provide dogs to veterans. Therefore, pursuant to
5 U.S.C. 605(b), this proposed rule is exempt from the initial and
final regulatory flexibility analysis requirements of sections 603 and
I wonder; isn't this in conflict with the
statement, "We believe that most service-dog providers that provide
dogs to veterans are already accredited in accordance with the
proposed rule", from above? It's a curious couple of
sentences that don't really seem to make sense to me.
||In conclusion, if you feel that the
proposed changes to the VA policy require re-vamping, I encourage you to
send your comments to the website listed above. Let your voice be