Taking Care of a Vet’s Best Friend…

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Department of Veterans Affairs

VA service dog Toby.

Depending on which vet you talk to, health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs is either the cat’s meow…or going to the dogs.

We mean that literally: the VA is seeking to keep its growing pack of service dogs provided to wounded veterans in tip-top shape by buying “veterinary health insurance and wellness coverage” for 301, and as many as many as 2,500, dogs now helping veterans around the nation.

It’s another example of the hidden costs of war that you might not think about unless you stumbled across a contract solicitation for it. Vets get dogs from the VA to help them with physical disabilities; there is also discussion about expanding such programs to aid vets with PTSD or other mental ills.

“Coverage will encompass Service Dogs owned by Veterans suffering from visual, hearing and/or substantial mobility impairments and may be expanded to include any other future disabilities approved by VA,” the solicitation says. “The Contractor shall provide VA with full comprehensive, quality veterinary health care insurance coverage for all Service Dogs approved by VA for receipt of insurance coverage regardless of age, breed, geographic location or pre-existing condition as long as the Service Dog is determined capable of performing as a Service Dog.”

The breeds to be covered include boxers, collies, Dobermans, German shepherds, golden retrievers, great Danes, black, golden and yellow Labs, Labradoodles, poodles, pugs, and Rottweilers. They range in age from 1 to 12 years.

Under the deal, VA service dogs will be entitled to these vaccinations:

— Distemper Parvo

— Leptospirosis

— Hepatitis

— Rabies

— Lyme Disease

— Bordetella (2 per year)

…and these annual exams:

— Otoscopic Exam

— Opthalmic Exam

— Rectal Exam

— Dental Exam

— Neurologic Exam

— Cardiovascular Evaluation

— Weight/Nutritional Counseling

— Coat & Skin Evaluation

— Abdominal Palpation

— Urogenital Evaluation

— Musculoskeletal Evaluation

— Pulmonary/Lung Evaluation

— Tonometry/Ocular Pressure

— Intestinal Parasite Fecal Exam

— Roundworm and Hookworm Dewormings

— Blood Sample Collect/Prep

— Blood Cell Count

— Differential Exam of Blood Cells

— Internal Organ Function Screens (liver, kidney, calcium/phosphorus, cholesterol and diabetes)

— Canine Dental Prophylaxis Protocol (utilizes one blood screening and one internal function screen, listed above)

— Urine Sample Collect/Prep – Free Catch

— Urinalysis – Individual Tests

— Urine Specific Gravity

— Urine Sediment Exam

— Chest X-Rays (3 views)

— Electrocardiograms

— Ear Swab and Microscopic Exam

Weight/Nutritional Counseling?

As well as:

— Dental Cleaning (sedation/general anesthesia is required for all cleanings)

— Grooming (Blind Veteran-owned Service Dogs only)

— Heartworm/Lyme/Ehrlichia Test – Rocky Mountain Tick Fever

— Free Interstate Health Certificates (when needed)

Of course, such care won’t continue forever, according to the VA:

Upon successful completion of the annual comprehensive exam, VA will certify or non-certify each Service Dog as fit/unfit for further duty. Those Service Dogs determined by VA as non-certifiable will no longer be eligible for insurance coverage and the Contracting Officer via contract modification in accordance with Section 5.4.2 will terminate the insurance coverage for the non-certifiable Service Dog.

We’ve asked the VA for an estimate of the annual per-dog cost, but it’s bound to be more than you might think, given the VA’s response to a potential bidder who asked if his employees would need security clearances if their company won the contract:

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) requires that all contractor personnel with access to VA sensitive data have a fingerprint check adjudicated favorably and a security investigation, which includes submission of various security documents, be favorably evaluated before access may be granted to VA information. In addition, all contractor personnel must successfully complete the following training each year:  VA Cyber Security Awareness and Rules of Behavior training, VA privacy training,  and any additional cyber security or privacy training deemed necessary by the Contracting Officer and/or Contracting Officer Representative.

Wonder if the dogs have to be so, ahem, vetted, as well?