Formerly a BVA Special Interest Group known as: Council of Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers (CVGSDH)
Often the extraordinary and traumatic experiences responsible for onset of vision loss by blind veterans are outside the scope of understanding of members of other guide dog or service dog interest groups.
Our intent is to perform our mission on behalf of veterans with dogs that qualify for acceptance by the VA as the “Dog of Record.” The membership of the Guide Dog Users Group is open to those veterans using dogs primarily for amelioration of medical challenges, and does not intend to include comfort, emotional support, or other dogs primarily performing support for non-medical challenges.
Code of Conduct
1.Pick up after your dog. Leaving waste behind from your dog is irresponsible and unfair to other teams who will encounter it.
2.Keep your dog on leash and with you at all times when in public places. It is not acceptable to leave your dog under a table while you wander off to do something else. Remember, your dog is not at home and is not going to react in the same way it does when it is calm and relaxed.
3.Ensure your dog is not a tripping hazard and is either tucked in at your side, under your chair or under a table when attending meetings. When standing in a group setting such as a crowded reception, please take care to hold your dog close to you by shortening the leash and holding it closer to your dog’s neck. If your dog lies down in this situation, ensure that it is tucked in and is not a tripping hazard.
4.If your dog is stressed out by the conference setting, kindly remove your dog from the setting and try to resolve the issue; if the issue cannot be resolved and the dog becomes a disturbance, you will be asked to either: 1) remove your dog and return without it, or 2) leave the proceedings.
5.Never feed your dog in public places; this is distracting to other working dogs.
6.Remember to give your dog extra relieving opportunities; you are not at home and the dog is under more stress and may require additional chances in the relieving area.
7.Know your dog; if it cannot be left alone, do not leave it in your hotel room. If your dog creates any damage to the premises, you will be responsible. Further, barking due to separation anxiety is not acceptable in a hotel or public lodging facility. Keep other guests in mind as you decide whether or not your dog can be left on its own.
8.Try to establish a play area for your conference. This might be a room devoid of chairs and tables where, once dogs have relieved, they can run and frolic. Never use public hallways for this purpose.
9.If your dog is bothered by another more aggressive dog, calmly talk with the other handler and try to arrange not to sit near each other. If this does not work or cannot be resolved, talk with the conference coordinator in charge of guide dog-related issues to request intervention.
10.Everyone works their dog differently; kindly refrain from making judgments about fellow conferees and how they work with their dogs. No two teams are alike; show other teams the respect you want shown to you in return.
11. We, and our guide dogs, shall be appropriate and comply with BVA policy; all local, state, and federal laws, regulations, rules, and animal ordinances at all times.
Adopted by BVA Guide Dog Handlers – July 2015
Membership and participation in the SIG is open to blind veterans currently teamed with a guide or service dog, former handlers, and potential blind veteran guide or service dog training candidates.
Interested guide and service dog training schools will be welcomed to collaborate with the Council to assist in execution of the mission through reinforcement of education, activity support, and information dissemination.
Conference Call / Meeting Information
Interaction throughout the year, between annual BVA conventions, will be conducted via monthly phone conference. Anyone with an interest in guide and service dogs and their veteran handlers are welcome to join these calls. The conference calls will be conducted on the Zoom platform. These conference calls are held on the third Tuesday of each month at 2:00pm Eastern, 1:00pm Central, 12 (noon) Mountain, 11:00am Pacific.
Washington +1 253 215 8782
California +1 669 900 9128
New York +1 646 558 8656
Maryland +1 301 715 8592
Illinois +1 312 626 6799
Texas +1 346 248 7799
Meeting ID: 329 444 0106
Chairman - Rae Hail
Member - Patti Hail
Member - Paul Mimms
Member - Gary Traynor
Member - Ann Chiappetta
Member - Irena Howard
Member - Timothy Hornik
HQ Staff - Donald Overton
The purpose of the Blinded Veterans Association Guide and Service Dog Committee is to:
- Serve blinded military veterans who are teamed with guide dogs or service dogs through support, education, information, and advocacy.
- Promote the use of the veteran/dog team; and best practices by the team, family, and other entities.
- Promote and maximize the relationship of the veteran/dog partnership, the accredited schools, and the family involved for a positive and lasting experience;
- Work with the various teams in the Veterans Administration as a resource to advocate for upgraded policies and practices through education, information, and advocacy to more effectively create an environment of proper conduct/etiquette within the VA for the safety and best practices of VA personnel and (veteran) clients.
- Define the responsibilities of the veteran with a guide/service dog and etiquette to be practiced regardless of where the veteran/dog team is.
Serve as a sounding board and information/resource group to veterans with legitimate (trained; accredited) Dogs of Record.
The mission of the Blinded Veterans Association Guide and Service Dog Committee is to:
1. Assist veterans to build independence, dignity, and positive relationships;
By being a resource for veterans in choosing an accredited training facility/program when considering a partner guide/service dog; this committee does not evaluate the training facilities/program, that is the responsibility of the accreditation authorities (such as ADI and IGDF);
Promoting and assisting a primary family member to understand their role and the relationship between the veteran and partner dog;
Being an advocate for veteran with accredited guide and service dog training facilities; and
Working with veterans, accredited trainers, and primary family member to develop a plan for understanding roles and relationships for the guide/service dog partners and significant family.
2. Work with the Veterans Health Administration at any/all levels for education, information, and advocacy regarding the policies and practices involving guide and service dogs on federal properties;
VA Central – especially Blind Rehab Centers; prosthetics; policies
VAMCs and VA Clinics
• VIST Coordinators and BROS, including
1. Pre-approval qualifications and other benefits
2. “Dogs of Record” – Process and Policies
• “Champions” for guide/service dogs
• Education, information, and advocacy
Veteran Responsibilities and Rights
3. Define and promote proper conduct and etiquette in daily life of the guide/service dog partners/team regardless of where travels take the partners and/or family.
In doing so, the BVA Guide and Service Dog Committee seeks to assist veterans, significant family members, accredited guide/service dog training facilities, VA policies, programs, facilities and employees in maximizing the positive relationships, training, and experiences of those involved by promoting the independence and dignity of the veteran as a guide/service dog team family.
This committee does not intend to include participants with comfort dogs, emotional support dogs, or other dogs primarily performing support for psychological challenges. It is in support of those veterans using or desiring to obtain a “Dog of Record;” using dogs primarily for amelioration or mitigation of medical challenges.
BVA Guide Dog User Group
2020/09/15 Committee Meeting
W. Rae Hail (Board Committee Chair and Co- Founder) opened the conference call meeting at 11:03 am PT and turned the forum over to Paul Mimms (Founder and Moderator). Paul, in turn, took roll call, introduced himself and asked each person in turn to share with the group.
Committee Members Present:
Rae Hail, BVA Chair, DD4, GD Handler
Paul Mimms, BVA Co-Chair, Founder, Moderator, GD Handler
Patti Hail, BVAA
Irena Howard, BVA, GD Handler
Annie Chiappetta, BVAA, GD Handler
Other BVA Board Members and Interested Participants:
Kevin Jackson, DD6
Dennis O’Connell, DD1, GD Handler
Eileen Vasquez, BVA RG Pres
Jerry Hogan, BVA, GD Handler
As each individual shared, many ideas were brought forward and hopes for the committee. Paul told an abbreviated history of the CVGSDH (Council of Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers) Special Interest Group of the BVA and the “coming of age” of the group to now be a recognized committee of the BVA. Many Thanks to those who made that happen.
This first meeting was a forum format so that ideas, thoughts, and more could be shared. Below each topic will be the notes put forth throughout the meeting that refer to the topic, regardless of where in the meeting they were shared.
Values of a Guide (and Service) Dog:
• Trained to meet ADI or IGDF standards
o Dog is a ‘low tech prosthetic’
• Committee is working with BVAA to share the values of having a guide/service dog
CVGSDHBVA Guide Dog Users Group:
• Currently a website at https://cvgsdh.net Webmaster of CVGSDH and BVA working to blend both websites; accessible also from BVA website under Guide Dog Users Group.
Education, Advocacy, and Support:
• Annie already has several workshops built, including an initial one called “Service Dog Workshop” which is an introduction to guide and service dogs.
o Since the BVA is looking for continuing education webinars on zoom, it was suggested that we look into having it come up on the zoom platform sooner, rather than later. Consensus of group was favorable.
• Resource of information to Veterans and their families about guide/service dogs.
Offerings and selection
Veteran advocate – all phases and topics
o VA involvement
Dog of Record
• Must be ADI/IGDF trained
• PTSD Dogs must have two people trained and with the dog at all working times. Some VAs (or schools?) are requiring that PTSD Dogs and handlers be retrained annually.
• Proper VA process and paperwork through Primary Care or VIST
Service Dog Champions – Need training, etc.
Reimbursement for Veteran Training expenses
Dogs on VA Property (Public Law 112-154) and enforcement. Spouses with guide or service dogs may or may not need proof of dog training. Case of ADA vs. 508. VA Law regarding guide/service dogs is 38 CFR 17.148.
VIST (controlled by local VA) does not have the same rules as BRC (nationally controlled).
How can we get local VAs and national (VA Central) on the same page? Or can we?
• Enforcement – Remember that Education must come first.
o Law Enforcement – Including VA
o County/State/Federal Health Departments and Food Service people
o Don’t forget first responders
o Know how to report problems/grievances – start locally (and keep records); as of 2011, may go to DOJ if local/state doesn’t work.
o In VAs, the VA Police are the go-tos. If that doesn’t work, try the Patient Advocate.
o Knowing the laws helps you help others – and yourself.
o We must advocate for ourselves! Remember – we are an advocacy organization.
• Reasons for need/use
• Live healthy
• University of Michigan has compiled a table of basic guide/service dog laws from every state. This is on their website.
• Important to know the dog laws in the state where you live and in states where you travel. Go to specific state laws to expand your knowledge from the U of M website.
• Assistance Dogs International used to have a handbook with all of the state laws. Too many changes to keep up with. ADI now focuses more on Training Standards for guide and service dogs and Certification of Trainers.
• Law Enforcement in all venues is minimal, at best. Most don’t know – or seem to care about – dog laws or the blind or disabled.
o An education/awareness idea: When you have a good working knowledge about the laws, put them together and ask to meet with your local law enforcement or other community entity for an education session.
• Need to re-establish connections with VA Central. Several people are working on this. VA Access Laws differ from Public Access.
• Seem to be problems with certification process of dogs of record in different VAs. Some short-cutting through prosthetics without proper paperwork (and training).
Other Support Resources:
• NFB NAGU
• Other Veterans Service Organizations
• Other websites (share when you know them).
• Learn and know the laws, etc.
• Do what you can in your own communities
• White Cane Day
• VA Education Table
• Spokane VAMC Walla Walla Veterans need BROS. Rae Hail is working with local VIST and VA Central – and support from BVA National
Very productive meeting. Lots of ideas and agenda topics to use from here.
The third Tuesday (of each month). Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at 2:00 pm ET, 1:00 pm CT, 12:00 noon MT, and 11:00 am PT.
Meeting was adjourned at 12:40 pm PT.
Patricia Hail, BVAA, BVA Committee Member
Accredited as per 38 CFR 17.148.
Is there a qualified (Master’s Degree) O&M Instructor?
Are there veterans on staff?
Are there both men and women on the training staff?
What kind of training is offered”?
o In school – How long
o At home
o A “flex” program that has some of both – variable with program
Is the training for a basic-trained guide or service dog or customized to the individual?
What kind of follow-up is there?
What are the school requirements of the veteran?
Is travel provided by the school? Or VA – Must pre-apply if not school.
Are there accommodations?
o Senior accommodations – i.e. wake-up, walking distance, diet, flex program.
o Multiple needs of veterans
o Safety of environment
Does the school have a Family Orientation Program?
How does the school address negative comments or abusive actions – student to student, staff to student, etc.
o Process for conflict resolution,
o Do they offer a neutral mediator when conflict arises?
Does the school recognize Patriotic Days/Holidays – such as Veterans Day Memorial Day, Branch Service Days?
These are just considerations for each individual. You may not have any desire to use them, or you may have others. Remember that the schools are evaluated entirely by their accreditation authority (such as ADI or IGDF). We like all of the schools and will only share what the schools ask us to. If you have questions, the best place for answers are the schools, themselves. We simply want to help the veteran have the best match for potentially the greatest success of the team – as does everyone.
Some of the ADI/IGDF accredited schools take care of a student/handler’s travel expenses. Others have smaller budgets and are unable to do so.
If you are planning to go to an accredited school to get a guide or service dog and the school is not paying for your travel, you may have another option – if you do it early enough and before you go to training at the school.
The VA has a Type 1 Travel general health option (See also 38 CFR 70) that may be able to help you out. You can find out more about it at:
VA Form 10-3542 for Reimbursement of Travel Expenses, is the form to use if you are traveling to get a guide/service dog. Be sure to get the form off of the VA.gov website so you have the newest form. The VA will not accept ‘old’ forms. Follow the instructions with the form. Usually you will need pre-approval in order to be reimbursed. Be sure to check with “Travel” at your local VA health facility. Under certain conditions, your caregiver may also be reimbursed. You have a 30 day window for reimbursement.
How to Get a Guide/Service Dog – aka Dog of Record
First: You must have a legal/medical necessity for having a guide or service dog and it must be part of your treatment program.
Secondly: This need must be written into your medical file and approved by your Primary Care Physician.
Next: You will need to find an IGDF (International Guide Dog Federation) or ADI (Assistance Dogs International) Accredited training facility.
This is not an easy task. There are a number of fully accredited guide and service dog schools/facilities around the country. The key is to find the one (or more) that fits your needs best.
Some of the first items to think about may include:
Costs – Most do not charge for the dogs, but some ask that you be willing to contribute money for harnesses, the school, or various other needs or items.
Travel – Does the school provide for your travel, or do you need to use other resources? See Travel Expenses for Training with a Guide/Service Dog in this website.
Type of Dog – Labs, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds and some crosses of these breeds are the most popular because there is a higher percentage of successful training with these dogs. Poodles, Labradoodles, and a few other breeds and crosses may be used by schools for veterans who (themselves or family members) may have a severe allergy.
Type of program – At the school, at your home, or flexible programs that do some of each.
Length of program – 2, 3, or 4 weeks (usually first-time students will need longer programs because there is a lot to learn). At your home programs and flex programs are sometimes have less length of time because they are usually one-to-one-to-one programs (trainer – dog – student).
Finally: Once you have narrowed your options, go to Considerations for Selecting a School/Training Facility on this website, and review that checklist; it will give you more to think about. Get an application from the training facility(ies) and completely fill it out and follow the directions they give you. Be prepared, some are lengthy.
After Successful Completion of Training: Go to your Primary Care Physician or VIST Coordinator and ask about VA Form 10-2641, with your Graduation Certificate and Training ID card. The VIST or PC will complete the form and take it and your certificate and card for verification. Following successful verification, your Dog of Record will be issued an insurance card with the VA/US Service Dog Program. (See 38CFR Section 17.148.)
As a Dog of Record with the VA, you now have access to your dog’s health care being paid for (at least in part) through the VA by contracted veterinary insurance services.
You have learned when and where your dog is allowed on VA property as well as public access. You know how to care for and handle you dog, using best practices for handling and etiquette so that you are able to continue your dog’s training and be able to correctly assess and handle the difficulties that will arise.
Stay in contact with your training facility if you have any questions about what your dog is doing, etc. Do not allow your dog to become untrained or be a pet. Remember that your dog is “on duty” 24/7. Love and play with your dog when it is appropriate; and remember to take every “play” time as an opportunity for further training.
Bonding with your dog may take several months because most dogs have been “passed around” frequently since birth. Once the dog is ‘bonded’ to you, the question as to ‘how long does take for the dog to be bonded to me?’ will never have to be asked again (for that dog) – you will know.
Your independence will grow the better the dog has taken to its training, the more quality time you spend together – working and play-training, etc., and through the totality of the bonding process. Enjoy your dog – and relish your increased independence.
What should we expect?
A Family Orientation Program is for the veteran’s significant other, a close family member, or a caregiver. It is an orientation – and hopefully a follow-up walk-behind that will tell the “family”
- How a well-trained guide/service dog team should act,
- How the family can be a part of the dog’s life (and vice versa)
- How NOT to break the dog’s training
- What family members need to do when the dog is working; when at home
- Remember that these dogs are working 24/7. The veteran has total say about when the dog can interact with family members.
- Do not allow abuse of any kind toward the animal. If this happens, call the authorities and call the school.
- When family needs to be available to assist. Different for individuals. Independence and safety are key.
Why Do We Need it?
A Guide or Service dog can add a large measure of Independence and Safety to the veteran’s life. Family should be respectful and allow the veteran the greatest measure of independence possible. Remember that increased independence of the veteran can mean more independence for the family caregiver, too.
The process of bonding between the dog and the veteran frequently takes several months – or more. It is important to encourage that bonding to be complete, no matter how long it takes. For that reason, the marriage/relationship you may have had with the veteran now becomes a threesome – with the dog becoming the extension of the veteran. You may not be able to hold hands while walking down the street; you will likely have to wait for them to get ready to go somewhere; walk behind or in front (takes a lot of getting used to, knowing when to be where). Take a step back and let the veteran tell you what he does or does not need from you. DO NOT COMPETE to do things for the dog or the veteran.
The Guide/Service Dog is NOT a pet – do not break training. Even play is an opportunity for training – and needs to be directed by the veteran handler.
In some cases, a family member/caregiver is required to be trained with the veteran because of a medical need or to have control of the dog while the veteran is in a sterile environment (like some area of medical facilities) and/or having some kind of medical procedure or issue. If there is a cognitive issue, such as Alzheimer’s or autism, the family member must be the dog’s trained handler.
A veteran may have a mobility support dog that has also been trained to have a calming effect if there is a mental health need but these are rare. This veteran will also have a second person trained with the dog and the veteran must remain in counseling for the duration. Often this situation requires annual training. And is for the safety of everyone.
It is impossible to list all of the reasons for orientation or the whys. But if some of the basics are given in an orientation and the veteran can communicate the dog’s and team’s needs, most things can be worked out. If assistance is needed, try calling the school and talk to their counselor – that counselor should be able to give both the veteran and the caregiver some ideas on how to proceed. Listen and do.
There are many ways an orientation may be given. Personally, I like being with the trainer and my veteran on site whether that is at the school or at home because we can communicate and I learn a lot. Other possible orientation venues may include:
An annotated video could be one method to show basic training methods in home and community situations. This could be viewed on line, at school, or at home. I believe this should be followed by a personal video (or walk behind with the trainer) of the specific veteran and dog – annotated so the family can see how the veteran handles the dog and the trainer gives positive comments.
A Zoom Meeting (or face-time with a smart phone) could be another way to ‘show and tell’ an orientation and/or walk-behind.
However it is done, the family member needs to know what to expect and what to do. The Family Orientation can solidify a good training – and make it better by following good practices. We have seen too many dogs that were ruined because a family member “took over” or the veteran did not use the dog as intended. Communication between the veteran and the training facility, or the family member to the school, and follow-up by the school can correct the actions not going well, or remove the dog from a dangerous situation.
We all want positive matches that continue to make greater improvements so that the dog, the veteran, and the family can have a wonderful and happy forever home. A good family orientation can help make this happen.
Air Travel with Assistance Dogs
- Department of Transportation 2009 FAQ for the Amended Air Carrier Access Act
- Guide Dog Foundation’s Air Travel Tips
- Air Travel with an Assistance Dog FAQ
- Pet and Animal Relief Areas at U.S. Airports
- International Pet Travel - Information About Traveling to a Foreign Country With Your Pet (While this article was intended for travel with pets, the information is relevant to service dogs as well.)
Department of Veteran Affairs Specific Resources
- VHA Directive 1188 establishes the regulations and authority for Service and Guide Dogs to access VA properties (tagged pdf)
- PUBLIC LAW 112.154 Sec.109 Forces the Department of Veterans Affairs to Allow Service and Guide Dogs into All VA Facilities
- VHA 2641 VA Form Required by VA Prosthetics Through the PCM for Enrollment Into the VA’s Service Dog Insurance Program (tagged pdf)
The Personal Side
Local Protection and advocacy. agency
As some of you know, each state has a federally-funded "Protection and
Advocacy Agency ("P&A" which will accept complaints about disability
discrimination as well as complaints about abuse and neglect of vulnerable
adults and which has the power to file a lawsuit against such actors and
actions. To find your state's P&A, you can go to
cacy-systems, go to the bottom of the page and click on the Find your P&E
Table of state laws for assistance dogs
Press Release: TSA continues piloting self-service checkpoint technology
Date: September 1, 2020 at 11:16:52 AM CDT
TSA continues piloting “self-service” checkpoint technology
Effort promotes social distancing, reduces contact between officers and passengers
WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is piloting a new touchless “self-service” technology that matches a traveler’s live photo with the photo on their ID. The initiative automatically authenticates a traveler’s ID, matches the live photo with the image on their ID, and confirms their flight information in near real time.
“In light of COVID-19, advanced health and safety precautions have become a top priority and part of the new normal for TSA,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “As a result, we are exploring rapid testing and deployment of this touchless, self-service technology. At the conclusion of the pilot, we expect to be able to determine how positioning the new technology will allow passengers to use it themselves thereby providing a safer checkpoint experience, while adding significant security benefits.”
The current pilot at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) follows a previous 30-day test of the credential authentication technology with a camera in September 2019 at McCarran International Airport with volunteer TSA PreCheck™ passengers. Following that pilot, TSA refined the technology in partnership with the vendor and industry experts. The pilot at DCA also includes volunteer TSA PreCheck travelers, who generally have the shortest wait times and the least amount of physical contact while at a TSA checkpoint.
Travelers at DCA are now able to voluntarily participate in the pilot. Passengers will be able to approach the device and insert their own ID into the scanner for authentication, rather than physically handing it to a TSA officer, thus promoting social distancing and reducing physical contact. The device will also verify the identity of passengers by taking a photo of the traveler and comparing it with the image on their ID. The device will display results for face matching, ID authentication, and flight information to the TSA officer, who will be behind an acrylic shield to further minimize contact between the officer and passengers.
The credential authentication technology units authenticate several thousand types of IDs including:
U.S. driver’s licenses and photo IDs issued by state motor vehicle departments
U.S. passports/Permanent resident cards or visas
U.S. military common access cards/Retired and Uniformed service military ID cards
Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler ID cards
Photographs of travelers taken as part of the program are not saved, as there is no capacity to do so. The photographs are only used for identity verification to confirm that the photo matches the image on the traveler’s ID and ensure the passenger is the true bearer of an authentic ID. Signs near the checkpoint will provide notice to passengers on how to participate in the pilot, in addition to providing instructions on how to decline having their photo taken, although passenger IDs will still have to be scanned through the device for identity verification. Participating travelers may complete a brief survey via a QR code regarding their experience and satisfaction with the self-service system and its usability.
For broadcast content, please see TSA courtesy B-roll of the new machines in use at DCA.