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10.7.7 Provision of Assistance Dogs
There are two distinct types of Assistance Dogs - Service (Assistance) Dogs and Support/Companion (Assistance) Dogs.
DVA does not provide funding for the purchase, training, transport or upkeep of any type of Assistance Dog through a DVA approved rehabilitation plan.
Consistent with our general approach to the provision of aids and appliances, Service Dogs can be considered under the Rehabilitation Appliances Program (RAP). Guide Dogs are the only type of Service Dog that are included on the included on the RAP National Schedule of Equipment and are considered for veterans who are vision impaired. The provision of a Guide Dog under RAP is based on assessed clinical need due to a war-caused injury/accepted disability.
Hearing and Mobility Service Dogs are not listed on the RAP Schedule of Equipment as an aid for veterans. Requests to DVA for the supply of aids (such as Service Dogs) and appliances that do not appear on the Schedule must be referred in writing to the Director, Health Access for consideration.
To be eligible for the provision of a Service (Assistance) Dog a veteran must hold a DVA Health Card for All Conditions (Gold Card) or a DVA Health Card for Specific Conditions (White Card) and have an assessed need due to a war-casued injury/accepted disability. In the case of a request for a Service Dog, the request would be considered as specifically required to aid persons with mobility or sensory impairment.
1. Service (Assistance) Dogs
This category includes visual, hearing and mobility service dogs. These dogs are considered an aid and are trained to perform tasks for a person to assist in managing their accepted conditions.
- Guide Dogs
A Guide Dog is specifically trained to assist a blind or visually impaired person’s mobility and independent living. These dogs are trained to travel on public transport and support the recipient in public settings.
- Hearing Dogs
Hearing Dogs assist hearing impaired individuals by alerting them to a variety of household sounds, such as a door knock or doorbell, alarm clock, oven buzzer, telephone or smoke alarm. Hearing Dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their deaf partners to the source of the sound.
Mobility Service Dogs
A Mobility Service Dog is specifically trained to promote independence for a person with mobility impairments, due to conditions such as spinal cord injuries or brain injuries, to achieve an optimal level of functional independence in activities and enhance their participation in the community. These dogs are trained to perform multiple tasks such as retrieving items, activating switches and opening and closing doors.
2. Support/Companion (Assistance) Dogs
Support Dogs, also referred to as Companion or Emotional Support Dogs are placed with an individual with the primary intent of providing companionship and emotional support in a person’s home environment. The training undertaken by these dogs varies, but as a general rule, includes only health, temperament and suitability assessments. These dogs are not trained to support the individual for community access and are not trained to travel on public transport or support the recipient in public settings.
Support/companion dogs are regularly profiled in the media as being of benefit to people with mental health issues. Often these reports indicate that the dog is being regarded as part of treatment for mental health conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression. A number of support/companion dog training providers are now operating in Australia.
DVA utilises an evidence-based approach to treatment and rehabilitation. There are a range of different types of treatment that have been shown to be effective in assisting veterans to recover from, and learn to manage, symptoms of mental health conditions. As there is currently no research based evidence about the effectiveness of support/companion dogs in managing the symptoms of mental health conditions DVA cannot finance the purchase, training, transport or upkeep of these dogs.
A trial to evaluate the mental health benefits of Assistance Dogs for veterans with PTSD has now been announced and is planning to commence in 2018. DVA is also aware that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in the United States (US VA) is currently conducting a study into the advisability of using assistance dogs for the treatment or rehabilitation of veterans with mental health conditions that are related to their service. The results are expected in 2018. Until sound evidence exists, DVA will not provide funding for the purchase, training, transport or upkeep of support/companion dogs to assist with the management of symptoms of mental health conditions.
If a Rehabilitation Coordinator or Case Coordinator receives a request for a Support/companion dog, they are required to advise the client that as per the agreed MRCC policy above, at this stage DVA will not provide funding for the purchase, training, transport or upkeep of support/companion dogs to assist with the management of mental health conditions.