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10.7.7 Provision of Assistance Dogs
There are two distinct types of Assistance Dogs:
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.
Guide Dogs are included on the Rehabilitation Appliances Program (RAP) Schedule. The provision of a Guide Dog requires prior approval and may be considered for veterans who are vision impaired due to an accepted war caused condition.
The Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (MRCC) has approved financial responsibility for the upkeep costs of Guide Dogs.
- 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.
Hearing and Mobility Service Dogs may be considered by RAP through their one-off approval process, as they are not a specific item on the RAP Schedule. Therefore, provision of a Hearing or Mobility Service Dog through RAP may be considered if a client has a DVA Health Card due to an accepted war caused hearing or mobility impairment.
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.
DVA is 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.