Unfortunately, even after returning to civilian life, many Veterans suffer from significant physical disabilities, and many more suffer from the “invisible wounds” of warfare, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) which can both cause debilitating symptoms in Veterans, leading to depression, social isolation and, far too often, suicide.
According to Wounded Warrior Project’s annual warrior survey, nearly 8 in 10 post-9/11 Veterans have a service-connected disability rating of 70% or higher and 75% of those surveyed reported suffering from PTSD.
Does the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Provide Service Dogs?
While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not provide dogs directly to Veterans, they are able to refer eligible Veterans to accredited agencies. There is generally no charge for the dog or the associated training, and if approved, the VA will pay for veterinary care and the equipment (e.g., harness and/or backpack) required for optimal use of the dog.
For more information, download the VA’s Service Dog/Guide Dog Benefits Rules Factsheet.
It should be noted that the VA only provides guide dogs for those needing visual assistance, and "service dogs" only to Veterans with hearing disabilities. The VA does not provide service or emotional support dogs to Veterans dealing with mental or other physical challenges.
Thankfully, Veterans who have a service-related injury or illness may qualify for a service dog or an emotional support animal (ESA) through one of more than 50 active non‐profit organizations that work to provide Veterans with service dogs.
1. Veterans Moving Forward, Virginia
Veterans Moving Forward (VMF), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in Dulles, Virginia, provides service dogs, facility dogs, and emotional support dogs to Veterans with physical and/or mental health challenges at no cost to the Veteran or their family.
VMF prides themselves on a high success rate in placing service dogs with Veterans, thanks to their comprehensive matching process. Read three stories from the Veterans whose lives VMF has changed.
The service dog’s specific tasks vary according to the Veteran’s disabilities. Tasks include, but are not limited to, retrieval of medications, water bottles or supplies; operation of light switches, opening/closing doors, mobility tasks, seizure and/or medical alerts, PTSD/nightmare interruption.
If you’d like to donate, volunteer, or apply for one of VMF’s great service dogs, please visit the Veterans Moving Forward website or follow VMF on Facebook.
2. Pups4Patriots, Washington, DC
The Pups4Patriots™ program rescues qualified shelter dogs and trains them — free of charge — for Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
In addition, they award grants to Veterans requiring financial assistance to obtain and care for a PTS service dog, and provide them with insight and institutional support as they navigate the daunting application process for PTS service dogs.
3. Warrior Canine Connection, Maryland
At Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), one service dog can help more than 60 warriors with their Mission Based Trauma Recovery model. They don’t just use regular dog trainers — they have Warrior Trainers, warriors recovering from the stress of combat, who interact with the dogs as they move through puppyhood to training and adult service dogs.
As part of their training, these warriors are responsible for teaching the dogs that the world is a safe place. Through that process, they must convince themselves of the same. When they experience a startling event, such as hearing a car backfire, the trainers must get outside of their own heads to focus on the dogs and their mission to help another Veteran.
WCC trains and places Service Dogs to assist Veterans with mobility impairments and/or to help mitigate the symptoms of service connected Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). They also train and place Assistance Dogs that work in other capacities, such as Facility Dogs and Military Family Support Dogs. Each type of placement has specific eligibility requirements, so be sure to check their website to see if you are eligible. There is no fee for the dog or for the training.
There’s even an online puppy cam where you can view puppies in their nursery 24/7!
4. Canine Angels, South Carolina
Canine Angels primarily rescues shelter dogs to rehabilitate them and place them with disabled Veterans, but they have also trained pets that were already part of a Veteran’s life. All Veterans are eligible to apply, regardless of where, when and how they sustained physical or psychological injury, but they attempt to focus on disabled Veterans from the Grand Strand area — Georgetown, SC, to Wilmington, NC.
5. K9s For Warriors, Florida
Roughly 20 Veterans die by suicide every day, and K9s For Warriors is determined to change that. In fact, K9s For Warriors exists because of a fierce dedication to saving the lives of both Veterans and rescue dogs, which is why a majority of their dogs come from high-kill rescue shelters.
As the nation's largest provider of Service Dogs for Veterans struggling with PTSD, TBI, and/or military sexual trauma, K9 For Warriors serves Veterans in every state across the country, but have their headquarters in Ponte Vedra, FL as well as campuses in Arizona and Texas.
After you submit an application and are approved, K9s For Warriors matches you with a service dog and hosts you both at one of their campuses for a 21-day program at no cost to you. This program prepares you for an ADI certification, which is a nationally recognized indication that a dog has been individually trained by a quality organization to perform specific tasks to aid a handler with a disability in accordance with the ADA, and it can be helpful.
6. Freedom Dogs, California
Based out of San Diego, California, Freedom Dogs offers short‐term and permanent placement of specialty service dogs with troops returning from war with PTSD and physical limitations at no cost to military personnel.
The Medical staff personnel with the Wounded Warrior Battalion — West on Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, CA select the participants for the Freedom Dogs’ Partner Program.
7. America's VetDogs, New York
VetDogs trains and places service dogs for those with physical disabilities; guide dogs for individuals who are blind or have low vision; service dogs to help mitigate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder; and facility dogs as part of the rehabilitation process in military and VA hospitals.
America’s VetDogs and its related organization, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, were the first two assistance dog schools in the United States accredited by both Assistance Dogs International and the International Guide Dog Federation.
It costs over $50,000 to breed, raise, train, and place one assistance dog; however, all of VetDogs’ services are provided at no charge to the individual.
Applicants for an assistance dog must be United States veterans who have been honorably discharged from the military or first responders who are visually or hearing impaired, or physically disabled. Learn more about VetDogs’ program qualifications.
8. Battle Buddy Foundation, Ohio
Founded by combat Veterans, the Battle Buddy Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization who provides free, highly-trained psychiatric and mobility service dogs to Veterans of all eras suffering from PTSD, TBI, and physical limitations.
With community partners like these, we believe we can make great things happen for those who serve — even after they leave the military. If you're part of an organization that would like to partner with AAFMAA, you can learn more at https://life.aafmaa.com/partners or by calling 910-307-3530.
You can find information about other organizations like those listed at:
Image Credit: Sadie, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii therapy dog, receives attention from a 15th Wing Medical Group airman during a therapy dog visit at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Feb. 19, 2021. Assistance Dogs of Hawaii is an organization based on Maui, offering support to people with disabilities so they can live more independently. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Makensie Cooper)
The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.