The use of psychiatric service dogs to assist Veterans who are suffering from mental illness is a recognized treatment option to support recovery. The Royal Canadian Legion understands the benefits of animal assisted therapy and has long supported these types of programs both nationally and through Legion Branches. Yet national standards and supports for the use of service dogs is lacking in Canada.
Of major concern for the Legion is a clear inequity in available tax credits for those who require a psychiatric service dog. Under current Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) regulations, our Veterans are not able to claim for care and maintenance of their psychiatric service dog (which can include food, veterinarian care, and travel expenses to receive training to handle the animal) because their mental illness is not an eligible condition under medical expenses for service animals. The current CRA regulations only provide deductions for the cost of a specially trained animal to help a person who:
- is blind
- is profoundly deaf
- has a severe and prolonged physical impairment that markedly restricts the use of his or her arms or legs
- is severely affected by autism or epilepsy
- has severe diabetes (for expenses incurred after 2013)
Veterans and their family members who rely on service animals due to autism, epilepsy or vision problems are granted the credit while Canada’s Veterans who suffer from PTSD and require a service dog are not.
Mental illness can be a debilitating health issue and must be given due recognition and support for research, treatment and care, and financial support including fair tax deductions for medical expenses of those being treated for mental illness.
On December 9, The Royal Canadian Legion sent a letter to William Morneau, Minister of Finance, urging the government to immediately address this inequality, and add mental illness to the criteria for CRA regulations for medical deductions for animal assistance. Specifically, allow Canada’s Veterans who have a current Disability Tax Credit Certificate on file with CRA, and where their service dog was provided by an organization qualified to train guide/assistance dogs, the ability to claim a tax credit and enhance their financial stability.
In addition to resolving the inequity in the CRA regulations, the letter to the Minister also addressed the establishment of national training standards for service dogs. The Legion has been advocating for national standards and we expressed our expectation for the development of national Certified Service Dog standards in 2017. These standards are essential in creating greater accountability of those who train service animals, will help ensure the safety of the person with the disability as well as the animal, and will strengthen public trust in the service dog community.
The Legion calls on the Government to immediately address these deficiencies and improve care and access to animal assisted therapy for Canada’s Veterans.