stock photo/Getty Images

Service dogs and the VA: what the agency will and won’t pay

August 31, 2018 - 12:34 pm

Pet insurance at VA is a real thing. 

Veterans with guide or service dogs from Assistance Dogs International (ADI) or International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) which are accredited service dog organizations have pet insurance through Veterans Affairs.  This comprehensive veterinary service includes normal preventative and maintenance care.  And the best part about all of this is that veterans aren’t billed for covered services and there’s no pre-authorization or justification required for covered charges.

Veterinary Care

Vet care includes prescribed medications, office visits for medical procedures and once a year dental care when the dog is sedated.  Typically vaccinations for the dog are current when provided to the veteran, but VA covers all vaccinations needed after the dog is placed.

Not covered by VA

VA will not pay for over-the-counter meds, treats or non-sedated dental care.  Normally food isn’t included in what VA covers but prescribed food will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Boarding and other routine expenses are not covered by VA’s pet insurance.  Grooming is also not covered, and this is possibly the largest expense you may encounter with your service dog according to Gina Esoldi, Assistant Training Director with Next Step Service Dogs.  “Your dog is groomed probably more often than a pet because the dog is in public,” says Esoldi.  “You want to make sure your dog is appropriate.”

Travel Support

There’s also travel support available for veterans receiving guide or service dogs through accredited ADI or IGDF organizations.  Because the veteran is expected to spend time training the dog, VA provides financial support for the veteran to travel to these training sessions.  This part does require pre-approval, and you work that through the Beneficiary Travel Program

Expenses for service or guide dogs that aren’t covered by VA may be used as a tax deduction.  You can include in medical expenses the cost of buying, training and maintain a guide dog or other service animals if they assist a visually impaired or hearing disabled person, or a person with any other physical disabilities.  Generally, this includes food, grooming and veterinary care.

Service dog equipment

Unless it’s supplied by the organization that provides the dog, VA pays for the equipment like a harness or backpack required for optimal use of the dog.  When this equipment wears out or is ruined, VA will replace it as well.

Equipment and insurance are administered through VHA’s Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service.  According to Esoldi, there is one piece of equipment every dog owner – service dog or not – should have and that’s booties.  “We train all the dogs to wear booties,” says Esoldi.  “And they’re so funny when you first put them on.  They walk like a clown.  It’s hysterical!”  If you’re out in the heat, Esoldi reminds everyone if you can touch the pavement and it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog. 

For more information on VA’s service dog program, go here.  And since Esoldi mentioned it, here’s a video compilation of dogs wearing booties for the first time.

            Contact us about this article or share your story at