Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a canine training pilot program for eligible post-traumatic stress disorder vets.
The five VA medical centres across the country have been chosen to offer the pilot program over the next five years. The Anchorage VA Medical Center in Alaska, the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, North Carolina, the Palo Alto VA Medical Center in California, the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans' Hospital in San Antonio, and the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center in Florida.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough explained that service dog training could be combined with those treatments to assist PTSD-suffering veterans.
Veterans' groups have long urged legislators to fund service dog training to ease mental health issues. As part of a press release, Rory Diamond, CEO of nonprofit organisation K9s For Warriors, said the program aims to raise awareness for the treatment option as a proven way to manage PTSD and suicidal thoughts.
Service dogs can help veterans feel more self-worth, as well as help regulate their emotions as they establish trust with their dog.
Through the program, participants will be able to train potential future service dogs and engage in social activities. Veterans who qualify for dogs can adopt them after the eight-week program.
The VA has not determined which partner organisation it will work with to conduct the training.
The VA will spend about $30 million on this treatment, from training to vet care, through 2026.
The program, however, will be free to veterans.
Veterans have to meet three requirements to participate. To qualify for VA health care, veterans must be enrolled in the VA health care system, they must be diagnosed with PTSD, and a VA mental health care provider must recommend them. Vets get their final endorsement only after a trip to their primary care provider or mental health care specialist within the last three months.
Although the VA has not yet announced whether it will expand the program to include additional VA Medical Centers beyond the five that it chose to start with.