[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 116 (Thursday, June 16, 2011)]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov
[FR Doc No: 2011-14933]
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
38 CFR Part 17
AGENCY: Department of Veterans Affairs.
ACTION: Proposed rule.
SUMMARY: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposes to amend its
regulations concerning veterans in need of service dogs. Under current
regulations, VA provides benefits to veterans with guide dogs, and this
rulemaking would broaden and clarify those benefits. This rulemaking
would also implement new benefits related to service dogs.
DATES: Comments must be received by VA on or before August 15, 2011.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Pursuant to 38 U.S.C. 1714(b) and (c), VA
may provide to veterans enrolled under 38 U.S.C. 1705 guide dogs
trained for the aid of people who are blind and service dogs trained
for the aid of the hearing impaired or persons with a spinal cord
injury or dysfunction or other chronic impairment that substantially
limits mobility. Under section 1714(d), VA is also authorized to
provide certain travel expenses related to the provision of such dogs.
In 1961, VA promulgated 38 CFR 17.118(a) (recodified as current 38
CFR 17.154(a) in 1996) restating the statutory language, which at that
time limited VA's authority to the provision of guide dogs for blind
veterans. Under both the statutory and regulatory language VA may
provide or furnish a guide dog to a veteran but is not required to do
so. VA interpreted ``provide'' in section 1714 and ``furnished'' in
Sec. 17.154(a) to mean that VA need not actually purchase or acquire
dogs for eligible veterans if there is an appropriate alternative. (We
also note that nothing in 38 U.S.C. 1714 requires VA to provide a dog
to a disabled veteran--the statutory authority is that we ``may'' do
so). Accordingly, it has long been VA's policy to apply current Sec.
17.154(a) by recognizing guide dogs that are obtained by the veteran
from private (usually non-profit) organizations dedicated to training
guide dogs. In this manner, we can rely on the professional expertise
of these organizations without having to house the animals and hire
trainers. Currently, VA regulations recognize only guide dogs and not
service dogs. To assist the veteran, VA provides financial assistance
for veterinary care, and provides hardware required by the dog at no
cost to the veteran. The provision of travel benefits is authorized by
current Sec. 17.154(a), and the provision of hardware is authorized by
current Sec. 17.154(b). This proposed rule would authorize VA to
provide benefits for
eligible veterans in need of service dogs, and clearly define the