VA looks to cut delays in service dog program

By Arelis Hernandez – The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Sep 6, 2009 16:44:03 EDT

HOUSTON — The drone of helicopters still haunts William Callahan decades after Vietnam combat left him paralyzed, but he said government bureaucracy stood in the way of getting the one thing that made the echoes stop and kept him independent: a service dog.   It took four years and giving up on a Veteran’s Affairs canine program for Callahan to find Taylor, a specially trained Labrador retriever.   Although the canine program’s Web site touts that it “routinely” gives veterans service dogs, the program’s director Neil Eckrich said only two dogs have been paired with veterans since Congress authorized the program in 2001. Eckrich acknowledged there were difficulties with the program, including the time it took to conduct studies on the dogs’ benefits and problems promoting the service.  Finally, about eight years after the program began, many hope it will start finding homes for the four-legged companions that can help disabled veterans be more independent, better deal with post traumatic stress syndrome and to just be a friend. The VA is now working on improving the program and in Washington, increasing funding for such programs is getting bipartisan support.


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