Sadly, it took a veteran’s death by suicide for a VA hospital to change their service dog policies.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (DVAOIG) has asked two VA facilities to improve care for mental health patients, including changing their policy that previously prohibited service dogs.
According to a report from the VAOIG, the veteran died by suicide after visiting VA facilities in Portland, Oregon and Palo Alto, California. The veteran was showing signs of suicidal ideation, and although staff made an effort to provide proper mental health services, the report says that they failed to meet certain policies.
One of those policies being not allowing the patient to bring his service dog to his appointments, despite the patient being at high risk for suicide. The patient refused to attend appointments without the 11-year-old service dog, whom they said was their only support system, which led to them missing crucial mental health services.
It turns out that the Palo Alto VA facility forced service dog requirements that were stricter than the VHA’s official service dog policy.
Until now, the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System required service dogs to “complete a health screening, be trained in three assistance tasks, and wear identification.” But the Veteran’s Health Administration’s policy didn’t authorize facility staff to require health screenings or identification.
After this tragic incident, the VAOIG issued recommendations to these two facilities in order to improve policy and procedures related to mental health care services.
The Palo Alto facility has since updated its service dog policy so that they align with the VHA’s.
Veterans often suffer from PTSD and other issues after returning from overseas. Service dogs can help veterans rebuild, recover and support them day in and day out through physical, mental and emotional hurdles.
GreaterGood is partnering with shelters and the Patriot Paws program to provide the proper tools to help better train the dogs in their care. Training is specialized for each dog which helps the dog meet the particular needs of the veteran that they will be paired with. These dogs will be helping veterans that have mobility limitations, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. The veterans will be helping these rescue pups by providing them with a home full of love!
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