By Brian Hill and Mercedes Stephenson Global News
Update: This story includes an updated response from Veteran Affairs Canada received after the story was first published.
Canadian veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are out of luck if they expect the government to help them find a service dog anytime soon.
Thats because the Department of Veteran Affairs (VAC) continues to deny veterans and their families funding for service dogs despite growing evidence showing their effectiveness in treating PTSD and its related symptoms.
The difference [between having a dog and not having a dog] can best be described as night and day, said Medric Cousineau, an air force veteran and the founder of Paws Fur Thought, an organization that helps match former soldiers with service dogs.
It may not seem like a huge difference to the average person, but for those of us battling those demons, its huge.
VACs continued denial of funding for service dogs comes on the heels of a government-commissioned report obtained exclusively by Global News that shows significant reductions in PTSD symptoms and an overall improvement in the quality of life for veterans matched with service dogs.
Researcher at Quebec Citys Université Laval who followed 31 veterans and their dogs since 2016 also found significant improvements in sleep quality, self-esteem, depression and mobility, meaning veterans who participated in the pilot project spent less time in bed and more time accomplishing tasks on their own.
While recognizing the cost for providing service dogs isnt cheap roughly $15,000 per dog Cousineau says the government is failing in its promise to provide veterans with the services they need.
What it boils down to is dollars and cents, Cousineau said.I dont know how they can sleep trying to reconcile human lives based on dollars. It makes no sense to me.
Government silent on where to go next
The final report was delivered to Veteran Affairs at the end of July, roughly eight weeks ago.
Yet the government has remained silent on whether the reports findings will be accepted and whether veterans will begin receiving funding for service dogs.
Seamus ORegan, the minister of veteran affairs, could not comment on the report when questioned by Global News, saying he hadnt read it yet.
Im going to go read it now, ORegan said Tuesday on Parliament Hill. As soon as Ive read it, we will come back as quickly as possible, he said.
Asked when veterans can expect a decision on whether theyll receive funding for service dogs, ORegan could not answer.
Ive got to read [the study] before I can give you an answer, he said. So let me read it.
Government stalling, sources say
Meanwhile, sources close to the pilot project tell Global News the government is stalling, delaying its efforts to implement the reports findings until theyve received additional information.
The sources say the government now wants to wait for an American study showing service dogs improve the quality of life for veterans suffering from PTSD before making a decision.
This is despite the fact Veteran Affairs has already reviewed a previous American study with similar results to the Canadian report, according to the sources.
Veteran Affairs told Global News it is reviewing the reports findings, but did not provide an answer on when veterans can expect direct funding for service dogs.
The government did, however, say it already provides limited funding to support service dogs through a tax credit, saving veterans hundreds of dollars a year.
In Budget 2018 we expanded the Medical Expense Tax Credit to recognize costs for psychiatric service dogs, said a government spokesperson.
This means we will be helping veterans who rely on psychiatric service dogs, and it actually complements the work of organizations that support them, such as Paws Fur Thought.
But those who work with veterans closely say this answer isnt good enough and that the government has had years to make its decision.
Weve seen service dogs literally change and save lives, said Phil Ralph, national director of Wounded Warriors, a charity that has provided 110 service dogs to veterans and first responders.
Since launching their service dog project, Ralph says Wounded Warriors has received roughly 12 requests a week from veterans. But he says the organization is overwhelmed and has since shut down its application process because the wait list is now more than two years.
Its been dragging out far too long, he said. There are individuals out there that are in desperate need of service dogs. There is only so much capacity in the charitable sector.