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New regulation updates VA policy on service dogs at VA facilities

The Department of Veterans Affairs is revising its regulation regarding the presence of animals on VA property.

Previous VA regulation authorized the presence of seeing-eye dogs on VA property and other animals at the discretion of a VA facility head. The updated regulation will ensure VA practices remain consistent with applicable federal law. It will also assist those entering and working at VA facilities in developing a clear and consistent understanding of the criteria governing facility access for service animals.

Under the updated regulation, service dogs are allowed on VA owned or leased property. Only dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability are considered service animals. There are no restrictions on the breeds of dogs that may be considered service animals.

All other animals will not be permitted in VA facilities, unless expressly allowed as an exception under regulations for activities such as animal-assisted therapy or for other reasons such as law enforcement purposes. Emotional support animals are not considered service animals under these regulations.

Over the next thirty days, VA will provide training to frontline employees and ensure policies at all facilities are consistent with the new regulation. The revised regulation applies to all property owned or leased by VA, to include property under the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration and National Cemetery Administration.

With the regulation, there are a number of guidelines regarding service animals on VA property. For example, the animals are NOT permitted in areas where patient care, patient safety and infection control standards would be compromised by the presence of an animal, such as operating rooms or areas where medical equipment is sterilized or stored.

If a service animal is not under the control of its Veteran or an alternate handler, it will be denied access to or removed from VA property. This includes not being housebroken, or if the animal exhibits behavior or other signs that it poses a risk to the health or safety of individuals or other service animals while on VA property. Such signs may include biting, snapping, growling, baring its teeth, lunging or external signs of parasites or other external signs of disease or bad health.

VA understands the important role that service animals perform for Veterans and other visitors to VA facilities. This revised regulation will ensure that individuals entering VA facilities have a clear and consistent understanding of the criteria governing access of service animals.

The updated regulation is sure to raise a number of questions, including what VA considers as a service animal. Please see the most common questions below, and refer to our frequently asked questions for further guidance.

What are examples of work or tasks that a service animal is trained to do or perform?

A service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The work or task that the dog has been trained to perform must be directly related to the person’s disability. Examples of such work or tasks include but are not limited to guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, alerting or protecting someone who is having a seizure, and calming a person with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.

I have an emotional support animal. Am I allowed to bring it to a VA facility?

No, the revised regulation requires that a service animal must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. The provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship does not constitute work or tasks.

Click here for more frequently asked questions about the new regulation.

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