Starting in 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals. According to ADA requirements, these dogs are trained to help perform tasks for the disabled in order to make life a little easier. These tasks might include leading the blind, helping alert others that a person is having a seizure, alerting the deaf, etc. State and local governments are required to make reasonable accommodations to those with disabilities — but does that same point require the federal government to provide service animals through benefits?
According to the website run by the Social Security Administration (SSA), “The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Disability programs provide assistance to people with disabilities…The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program pays benefits to you and certain family members if you are “insured,” meaning that you worked long enough — and recently enough — and paid social security taxes on your earnings. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources.
Unfortunately, there are no state or federal benefits that cover service animals. Medicare, Medicaid, and SSDI do not provide benefits for those who require or would benefit from the aid of a service animal. It doesn’t matter which office you ask: There’s no difference between NYC SSDI or Los Angeles SSDI or a smaller office.
So how do the disabled afford one? The only way is by turning to organizations outside of the government. There are several that might help pay for these expenses: Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Canine Companions for Independence, and the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners have been known to lend a helping hand.
Although SSDI, Medicare, or Medicare won’t directly support the adoption of a service animal, you can still use any monthly benefits that provide income in order to pay for them yourself. Because disability claims go through such a long wait period before final approval, there might be an initial “back benefit” payment to cover expenses that would have accrued from the time a person applied until the time the benefit was approved. This lump sum can also be used to pay for a service animal.
Another uncommonly used strategy is to speak with a disability lawyer. Not every lawyer’s job is to sue someone else. A disability lawyer can help track down resources you wouldn’t think to look for on your own. There are other nonprofits and private organizations who might be willing to help, and attorneys are often affiliated with them.
Service dogs can be trained by private owners, and there isn’t much oversight from the government. Also, many people are turning toward “emotional support” dogs. That’s why some airlines are refusing to allow them onto flights. A recent ruling from the Department of Transportation (DOT) said that most categories of service animal would no longer be allowed to ride in the cabin uncaged — which provides airlines with more room to maneuver when drafting their own policies. When you get a service animal, remember that travel might become more difficult.