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Nonprofit organizations train service dogs to improve the level of independence possible for people with disabilities. Service dogs also protect their handlers from complications of medical conditions and alleviate the loneliness experienced by people who are mentally ill. Many disabled people who need service dogs cannot afford the high cost of training and caring for the animals. Medicaid provides free or low-cost health insurance to low-income people. Medicaid insures certain groups of people, including the disabled.
Medicaid is a federal health insurance program operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Each state administers its own Medicaid program and sets operation guidelines, including eligibility and services. Medicaid does not cover costs related to service dogs.
Service dogs are one of three types of assistance dogs, which include guide dogs for the blind and hearing dogs for the hearing impaired. Service dogs perform tasks for people with disabilities unrelated to hearing or vision. Service dogs train to work with people who have psychiatric disabilities or those who use wheelchairs. Trainers teach the dogs to alert to medical issues like seizures and low blood sugar. The dogs help people with balance problems or autism. Service dogs perform tasks to improve the quality of life for disabled people. Many of the dogs wear harnesses or backpacks.
Training organizations acquire service dogs, often Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, from animal shelters and breeding programs. Volunteers perform much of the work of the organizations; however, the costs to raise and train a service dog can exceed $20,000. The cost to people who need service dogs could be as much as $10,000. The ongoing expenses related to having a service dog include the purchase of special equipment, such as harnesses, veterinary care and food.
Alternative Financial Assistance
Some government agencies and nonprofit organizations provide financial assistance to help with service dogs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays for equipment and veterinary care. The Social Security Administration pays for some guide dog expenses for disabled people who work and receive supplemental security insurance, or SSI. Some state departments of social services provide financial assistance for service or guide dogs. The California Department of Social Services operates a program that provides a small monthly payment to assist with expenses related to service dogs. Local and national private nonprofit organizations, such as the Assistance Dog United Campaign, provide financial assistance for training and acquiring service dogs and training people in the use of the animals.
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: Overview
- Assistance Dogs International: About Assistance Dogs
- Assistance Dogs International: About Service Dogs
- NEADS Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans: FAQs
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Guide and Service Dogs FAQs
- Kaiser Family Foundation: Keeping Medicare and Medicaid When You Work, 2005
Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.