Psychiatric assistance dogs

Last updated: 
12 April 2021

Information about psychiatric assistance dogs and how to gain access to one.

What is a psychiatric assistance dog?

A psychiatric assistance dog is trained to perform specific tasks that contribute to your clinical recovery goals and could include:

  • detecting signs of distress
  • performing specific tasks to help alleviate those symptoms, for example, waking you if you are experiencing a night terror, or nuzzling you to distract you from emotionally disabling symptoms.

A psychiatric assistance dog is trained to meet a person’s clinical needs, and the veteran will be trained as a handler.

What is the eligibility criteria for a psychiatric assistance dog?

To be eligible for a psychiatric assistance dog through DVA's Rehabilitation appliances Program (RAP) you must have:

  • a Veteran Gold or White Card
  • a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from a psychiatrist
  • be undergoing treatment with a psychiatrist or psychologist for your PTSD for at least 3 months
  • be assessed as having the emotional resilience required to be involved in the training and care of a psychiatric assistance dog

How do I apply for a Psychiatric Assistance dog?

If you feel you may be eligible you should talk with your mental health professional about submitting a request form.

Mental health professionals suitable for prescribing a psychiatric assistance dog include:

  • psychiatrists
  • psychologists
  • mental health social workers
  • mental health occupational therapists

Your mental health professional should refer to the RAP National Guidelines - Assistance Dogs when completing the request for an Assistance Dog form.

During the process of completing the form and providing supporting information your mental health professional may ask questions about your:

  • living arrangements and whether you can accommodate a dog living with you
  • ability to care and regularly exercise an assistance dog
  • support networks you have on hand to take over the care of the dog when you are unable to
  • emotional resilience and your ability to undertake intensive training
  • family dynamics and whether there is a history of domestic violence or history of animal abuse (this includes all members of the household)
  • admissions to hospital in the last 12 months
  • use of drugs or alcohol in the last 12 months

DVA will review your eligibility for a psychiatric assistance dog based on the information provided by your mental health professional and the organisation who will potentially supply the dog.

What happens once I have been approved?

If approved by DVA, the assistance dog provider will also assess your suitability for:

  • a psychiatric assistance dog
  • participation in their program.

Consideration will be made about whether you would benefit from receiving a psychiatric assistance dog, and if you are capable of looking after a psychiatric assistance dog.

How long will it take to get a psychiatric assistance dog?

Training programs can take time (sometimes up to 12-18 months) before the psychiatric assistance dog will commence living with you.

A psychiatric assistance dog will be trained to meet your clinical needs, and you will be trained as a handler.

Due to the time required to breed and train a psychiatric assistance dog there may not be an appropriately matched dog immediately available. You might be placed on a waitlist, and dogs will be provided on a first-come-first-serve basis for an appropriately matched psychiatric assistance dog. You will be kept up-to-date regarding your progress on the waitlist by the dog provider.

Neither DVA nor the dog provider can facilitate requests for priority access to psychiatric assistance dogs.

What if I disagree with a decision?

If you disagree with DVA’s decision to deny you prior approval, you will need to speak to the referring mental health professional to understand the reason the request has been declined.

If your circumstances change, you may request your mental health professional submit a new prior approval request.

If the assistance dog provider assesses you as unsuitable for a psychiatric assistance dog, you will not be able to receive a psychiatric assistance dog through DVA unless your circumstances change.

What are my obligations?

It is important you understand the commitment involved in having a psychiatric assistance dog.

You are encouraged to speak to your mental health professional about any concerns you may have, and any potential stressors in your life now or anticipated within the next 12 months.

A face-to-face interview is required, and this may be conducted in your home.

Consideration may be given to your:

  • living circumstances
  • support team
  • ability to participate in the training program
  • ability to care for the dog.

What happens if I am matched with a psychiatric assistance dog?

If matched with a psychiatric assistance dog, you are required to:

  • abide by the assistance dog provider’s program requirements
  • participate in all required training sessions.

Note: It is important to note that training programs can take time (up to 12-18 months) before the psychiatric assistance dog will commence living with you.

Following training, the psychiatric assistance dog will commence living with you and you will be responsible for the wellbeing of the dog. This includes:

  • daily exercise
  • feeding
  • annual veterinary checks
  • vaccinations as directed by the veterinarian.

While the psychiatric assistance dog is in your care you will have the dog provider’s support; this includes, but is not limited to, six monthly welfare checks and annual public access testing (PAT), as well as additional training if required.

You are encouraged to seek assistance from the provider if you experience any difficulty, or incidents with the dog.

What financial assistance is available under the Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program?

Under the Program, DVA will pay for the supply of a fully trained and registered psychiatric assistance dog. You can request reimbursement for the costs associated with maintaining the welfare of the dog, this includes:

  • Annual maintenance costs up to $565 per quarter — yearly vet costs (including vaccinations and medication), pet insurance, and food.
  • Unexpected vet bills and gap payments — in the event the psychiatric assistance dog has an unexpected vet bill, or you are out of pocket due to the difference between the bill and the amount claimable by pet insurance, DVA will reimburse this amount.

DVA does not provide financial assistance for assistance dogs procured outside of the Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program.

How do I claim expenses incurred for my psychiatric assistance dog under the Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program?

You will need to complete a Medical Expenses Privately Incurred (MEPI) form to be reimbursed for expenses incurred for your psychiatric assistance dog and email the completed form and receipts to Medtreat [at] dva.gov.au. Maintenance costs over $565 per quarter require prior approval and should be forwarded to DVA for prior approval.

DVA is unable to reimburse costs for assistance dogs procured outside of the Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program.

Forms you may need