(a) Definitions. For the purposes of this section:
Service dogs are guide or service dogs prescribed for a disabled veteran under this section.
(b) Clinical requirements. VA will provide benefits under this section to a veteran with a service dog only if:
(1) The veteran is diagnosed as having a visual, hearing, or substantial mobility impairment; and
(2) The VA clinical team that is treating the veteran for such impairment determines based upon medical judgment that it is optimal for the veteran to manage the impairment and live independently through the assistance of a trained service dog. Note: If other means (such as technological devices or rehabilitative therapy) will provide the same level of independence, then VA will not authorize benefits under this section.
(3) For the purposes of this section, substantial mobility impairment means a spinal cord injury or dysfunction or other chronic impairment that substantially limits mobility. A chronic impairment that substantially limits mobility includes but is not limited to a traumatic brain injury that compromises a veteran's ability to make appropriate decisions based on environmental cues (i.e., traffic lights or dangerous obstacles) or a seizure disorder that causes a veteran to become immobile during and after a seizure event.
(c) Recognized service dogs. VA will recognize, for the purpose of paying benefits under this section, the following service dogs:
(1) The dog and veteran must have successfully completed a training program offered by an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation, or both (for dogs that perform both service- and guide-dog assistance). The veteran must provide to VA a certificate showing successful completion issued by the accredited organization that provided such program.
(2) Dogs obtained before September 5, 2012 will be recognized if a guide or service dog training organization in existence before September 5, 2012 certifies that the veteran and dog, as a team, successfully completed, no later than September 5, 2013, a training program offered by that training organization. The veteran must provide to VA a certificate showing successful completion issued by the organization that provided such program. Alternatively, the veteran and dog will be recognized if they comply with paragraph (c)(1) of this section.
(d) Authorized benefits. Except as noted in paragraph (d)(3) of this section, VA will provide to a veteran enrolled under 38 U.S.C. 1705 only the following benefits for one service dog at any given time in accordance with this section:
(1) A commercially available insurance policy, to the extent commercially practicable, that meets the following minimum requirements:
(i) VA, and not the veteran, will be billed for any premiums, copayments, or deductibles associated with the policy; however, the veteran will be responsible for any cost of care that exceeds the maximum amount authorized by the policy for a particular procedure, course of treatment, or policy year. If a dog requires care that may exceed the policy's limit, the insurer will, whenever reasonably possible under the circumstances, provide advance notice to the veteran.
(ii) The policy will guarantee coverage for all treatment (and associated prescription medications), subject to premiums, copayments, deductibles or annual caps, determined to be medically necessary, including euthanasia, by any veterinarian who meets the requirements of the insurer. The veteran will not be billed for these covered costs, and the insurer will directly reimburse the provider.
(iii) The policy will not exclude dogs with preexisting conditions that do not prevent the dog from being a service dog.
(2) Hardware, or repairs or replacements for hardware, that are clinically determined to be required by the dog to perform the tasks necessary to assist the veteran with his or her impairment. To obtain such devices, the veteran must contact the Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service at his or her local VA medical facility and request the items needed.
(3) Payments for travel expenses associated with obtaining a dog under paragraph (c)(1) of this section. Travel costs will be provided only to a veteran who has been prescribed a service dog by a VA clinical team under paragraph (b) of this section. Payments will be made as if the veteran is an eligible beneficiary under 38 U.S.C. 111 and 38 CFR part 70, without regard to whether the veteran meets the eligibility criteria as set forth in 38 CFR part 70. Note: VA will provide payment for travel expenses related to obtaining a replacement service dog, even if the veteran is receiving other benefits under this section for the service dog that the veteran needs to replace.
(4) The veteran is responsible for procuring and paying for any items or expenses not authorized by this section. This means that VA will not pay for items such as license tags, nonprescription food, grooming, insurance for personal injury, non-sedated dental cleanings, nail trimming, boarding, pet-sitting or dog-walking services, over-the-counter medications, or other goods and services not covered by the policy. The dog is not the property of VA; VA will never assume responsibility for, or take possession of, any service dog.
(e) Dog must maintain ability to function as a service dog. To continue to receive benefits under this section, the service dog must maintain its ability to function as a service dog. If at any time VA learns from any source that the dog is medically unable to maintain that role, or VA makes a clinical determination that the veteran no longer requires the dog, VA will provide at least 30 days notice to the veteran before benefits will no longer be authorized.
(The Office of Management and Budget has approved the information collection requirements in this section under control number 2900-0785.)
[77 FR 54381, Sept. 5, 2012]