"VA has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness," the department said. "Until such a determination can be made, VA cannot justify providing benefits for mental health service dogs."
"At the VA, what they tend to do is pump you with medicine," he said. "That’s not a solution to any issue like PTSD or anxiety. They just kind of numb you. I knew that wasn’t the right choice for me. I was looking for an alternative."Stories like Zaragoza’s prompted members of Congress to push for the VA to provide more canine assistance to veterans, and recommended more research to explore how dogs might best help veterans suffering two of the most common mental disabilities from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan — PTSD and TBI.
As NBC News' Rebecca Ruiz reported in August, a team of epidemiologists, mental health providers, veterinarians and other experts were conducting a study at the Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla. Proponents were eager for the three-year study to deliver data to demonstrate benefits and help create a framework for training mental disability service dogs.
But the research was temporarily suspended from January to June after a young girl was bitten by a dog. VA declined to be interviewed about the study, but told Ruiz that the project resumed after it increased monitoring through phone calls and home visits by the researchers and service dog providers.