Psychiatric assistance dogs

Last updated: 
24 January 2020

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.

Am I eligible for the Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program?

If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then you may be eligible for a psychiatric assistance dog. You are encouraged to see an approved mental health professional who will assess your eligibility and submit a Request for Prior Approval to DVA.

The request for Prior Approval is your application form for the Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program. Please make sure you and your mental health professional attach all relevant documentation required. A copy of the form can be found here: https://www.dva.gov.au/sites/default/files/dvaforms/d9356.pdf

Approved mental health professionals include:

  • psychiatrists
  • psychologists
  • mental health social workers, and
  • mental health occupational therapists.

Before seeing an approved mental health professional and asking for a psychiatric assistance dog, you must meet the following criteria:

  • be a veteran
  • have an accepted condition of PTSD, or a diagnosis of PTSD from a psychiatrist, and
  • be undergoing treatment by a psychiatrist or a psychologist for PTSD, and have been undergoing such treatment for at least three months.

It is important to note that while DVA may determine you eligible and provide prior approval, this does not guarantee you a psychiatric assistance dog. Each assistance dog provider will have their own program suitability criteria and will consider an appropriate match with the dogs they provide.

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.

Why might DVA deny me access to a psychiatric assistance dog?

DVA might deny your access to a DVA-funded psychiatric assistance dog if you:

  • do not meet the eligibility criteria
  • have had hospital admission/s for suicide attempt/s or self-harm behaviours in the previous 12 months
  • have had drug and alcohol misuse that has not stabilised in the previous 12 months
  • have a history of family violence or animal abuse
  • are assessed as unsuitable to appropriately handle and/or care for a psychiatric assistance dog by the assistance dog provider.

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