Blind Vets Warn Against VA Funding Guide Dogs
Mar 05, 2013
Military.com| by Bryant Jordan
The Blind Veterans Association is warning lawmakers against passing
legislation – already sidetracked at least twice – to have the
Department of Veterans Affairs cover costs of getting guide dogs for
BVA officials say that lawmakers have been pressed for three years to
provide millions of dollars annually to ensure that blind veterans who
want a dog – whose costs have been put at $35,000 – can afford one.
However, the dogs have been paid for by non-profit organization like the
The Seeing Eye in New Jersey since the 1960s. BVA officials fear that
requiring the VA to pay for a dog will open up the entire system to
abuse and fraud.
“For 67 years, BVA has worked with both VA and the original guide dog
training programs to ensure that any blinded veteran who wishes to have
a guide dog can obtain one for free,” Sam Huhn, national president of
the BVA, told a joint meeting of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs
committees recently. “For decades, hundreds of blinded veterans have
received guide dogs from a handful of well-known programs that never
charged a veteran to receive a guide dog.”
Huhn said Congress needs to be wary of funding an unnecessary guide-dog
program, “for the protection of disabled veterans, the strong potential
risk of fraud, misleading advertising, and VA liability for large future
About three years ago, lawmakers and the VA began hearing horror stories
about blind vets not being able to afford guide dogs. News articles
began appearing in which families and organizations associated with
Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans said they were unable to pay the huge
costs for service or therapy dogs, Huhn said.
The veterans and advocates began inquiring about the possibility of the
VA providing a dog to any disabled veteran with a physical or mental
health condition. Since then Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., successfully got
through a bill to fund a study of service dogs for vets with PTSD and
traumatic brain injuries.
As part of the study, the VA would cover the costs of getting a dog for
Demands have grown since the Franken legislation for expansion of the
benefit for the VA to cover the costs of service dogs, guide dogs, and
therapy dogs, according to Huhn. He said training centers around the
country are now saying they can provide such dogs at about $35,000 each.
Tom Zampieri, director of government relations for BVA, said he
convinced Rep. Mark Amodie, R-Nev., from filing a bill to have the VA
pay out millions for the animals.
It was not his first intervention. In 2011, he said, former Sen. John
Kerry was going to do the same thing. Kerry had recently met with a
blind vet who told the former senator and current Secretary of State how
much he needed the dog but was not able to afford it.
Zampieri asked Kerry if the veteran had any other representative with
him. Kerry answered that the vet was accompanied by a representative
from a dog-training center. “Yeah, of course,” Zampieri said, explaining
that the training center stood to get about $35,000 from the VA for each
dog it trained if Kerry’s planned bill was passed.
Zampieri said that Congress appears unaware that the private sector has
not established the standards, licensure and dog-trainer certification
regulations nationwide. Only California has laws governing licensing, he
The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners spells out
service animal standards, but there are no statutory standards, he said.
In fact, according to Huhn’s testimony before Congress, only nine
service dog programs voluntarily follow IAADP standards, while 86
programs do not.
“Some service dogs are being trained in six weeks while the
well-established guide dog programs have averaged well over 120 hours of
training over a nine-month period,” Huhn testified. “We strongly caution
[Congress] to reassess this situation for the protection of disabled
veterans, the strong potential risk of fraud, misleading advertising,
and VA liability for large future expenditures.