Bill HR 1154 would let all service dogs on VA property

Post date: Mar 19, 2011 3:39:50 PM

AirForce Times Posted : Friday Mar 18, 2011

Veterans Affairs Department facilities nationwide would be required to allow service dogs on their properties under legislation introduced Thursday.

Current VA regulations require access only for guide dogs for the blind, leaving local facility officials to decide if they want to provide additional access.

VA is working on a department-wide policy change, which could take effect as early as June, to allow disabled veterans with mobility issues to be accompanied by service dogs.

In addition, a bipartisan bill, cosponsored by 35 lawmakers, would require VA to allow all service dogs on all Veterans Affairs Department properties. The chief sponsor of the bill, HR 1154, is Rep. John Carter, R-Texas.

The bill is aimed at covering dogs trained to help those suffering from hearing impairment or mobility issues, as well as dogs specially trained to help veterans who have post-traumatic stress or other mental health issues.

Christina Roof of the veterans service organization AmVets said the aim is to modernize an outdated policy. She believes any disabled veteran using a service dog “must have the same access rights to VA care and facilities as currently afforded to blind veterans using guide dogs.”

“We should never refuse care to veterans based on their disability or the prosthetic device they use to assist them,” she said. “In this case, the prosthetic is a service dog.”

Roof said the policy change under way within VA is a good step, but “we still believe there are loopholes that need to be addressed and corrected in order to guarantee veterans receive the care and services they need, regardless of their disability.”

Carter called his bill commonsense legislation. “I believe [it] will draw very little debate,” he said.

“If seeing-eye dogs have unrestricted access to VA facilities, then so should service dogs for veterans with other disabilities,” he said.