The VA recognizes three types of service dogs for disabled veterans. For blind and vision impaired vets, guide dogs are trained to lead in walking and to navigate around hazards. Service dogs are trained to do things regular dogs can’t, and specifically to perform a task that the veteran cannot perform because of the disability. Emotional support dogs provide emotional support and companionship for those vets with mental health conditions.
Guide dogs and service dogs are obtained through a provider’s recommendation and from nationally recognized training programs. The VA does not cover the usual costs of dog ownership, such as food, but does pay for vet care and equipment through the Va’s prosthetic program.
Emotional support dogs can be regular pets. They provide the companionship and emotional benefits of pet ownership, which can be comforting for people with and without emotional health conditions. The VA does not, at this time, recognize emotional support animals as an evidence-based therapy for PTSD and other mental health conditions. They do not offer any financial support for animals in these roles or allow extended access to areas pets are usually forbidden, such as airplanes and restaurants.
While the evidence-based medical therapies do not support dogs as emotional support animals, particularly for those with PTSD, many veterans groups, animal groups, and lawmakers disagree. State and national organizations that offer support and assistance with emotional support animals continue to grow. With a number of these organizations actively soliciting participation from veterans, it is worth noting that several international and national training programs for service animals exist, but there is not at this time a national training or register for emotional support animals. Veterans groups and individual veterans recommendations may be the safest way to navigate through these new organizations.
Emotional support animals must comply with the rules and restrictions of regular pets. They, for instance, have to live in a pet-approved apartment or housing. Owners have to be able to care for the animals normally, such as affording food and being able to walk dogs. Many multi-family housing areas have breed restrictions; guide and service dogs can qualify for an exemption for breed restrictions and pet fees, but emotional support pets do not.