Veterans Administration Proposed Changes Regarding Service Dogs

The following was written back in June 2011

Sadly, in Aug 2012, the law was passed.  But, here is a petition where folks can show their displeasure for the new law.


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 to:
Type in “RIN 2900-AN51—Service Dogs" in the search box, and you'll get to a Submit Comment box.


Quoting from the proposal:

"Proposed 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 laws."

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 organizations.  Therefore....
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 proposed rule."
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 following states:
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 604."  
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 heard.  

Hit Counter


contact us

Committed Canine, Inc.


© 2011 All Rights Reserved