Military veterans in the CNMI are being encouraged to check if they qualify for service dogs. To qualify for one, a veteran must be diagnosed as having a psychological, visual, hearing, or substantial mobility impairment.
Stanley T. Iakopo, executive officer for the Office of Veterans Affairs, said in an an email last Friday that veterans will need to discuss physical or mental limitations with their healthcare providers to determine if a service dog will be an appropriate treatment approach and, if needed, veterans can choose to meet with a medical provider through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Once deemed qualified to receive a service dog, the DVA will refer veterans to accredited agencies such as Assistance Dog International or the International Guide Dog Federation, and the DVA through VA Benefits will cover the costs of veterinary care—which includes prescribed medications, office visits for medical procedures, and dental procedures where the dog is sedated—and costs of equipment that are required for optimal use of the dog, such as backpacks and harnesses.
Iakopo added that the dog’s vaccination records will be up-to-date upon a veteran receiving the dog through an accredited agency and that the cost of these vaccinations is covered by the DVA. Iakopo clarified, however, that the DVA will not pay for the dog itself, or for over-the-counter medications, boarding, food, grooming, and other routine expenses.
When asked what breeds these service dogs may be, Iakopo said that Labradors and Golden Retrievers are the most popular, and added that these service dogs can be German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Poodles, Collies, or Great Danes.
Iakopo said that “service dogs are much more than emotional support” and mentioned research from the VA that speaks on the benefits of having a service dog. Iakopo added that it is important for CNMI veterans and veterans elsewhere to seek the medical help that they need, and said that prescribing veterans a plethora of medications is not the only option.
“Research from the VA has concluded that service dogs are a proven therapy for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, [and] that they can also reduce the amount of medication some veterans require for treatment and alleviate their overall symptoms. …We have to get out of the mindset of just providing drugs to vets as if that’s their only option,” said Iakopo.
For more information, the CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs can be contacted at 664-2650.