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In addition to seeing-eye dogs, veterans are increasingly using medical service dogs for disability assistance due to hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, seizures, and mobility assistance for amputees. The Vets Dogs bill amends Title 38 to guarantee all medical service dogs are allowed into VA facilities.

Due to access problems reported by veterans using service dogs, the VA earlier issued an internal directive to allow the dogs for a five-year period, but the directive is subject to withdrawal and expiration. The Carter bill makes the policy permanent law.

The Vets Dogs bill is supported by AMVETS, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the VetsFirst organization.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded a $98.8 million contract to build a new rehabilitation facility located on the campus of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

“This new Polytrauma-Blind Rehabilitation Center will allow VA to better serve our Veterans and active duty Servicemembers in a state-of-the-art facility, which will support the exceptional clinical care currently delivered through both programs,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

In 2005, the VA Palo Alto Health Care System was designated a Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center. Since then, the program has been housed in an existing facility originally constructed in 1960. The Western Blind Rehabilitation Center, which began in 1967, has been housed in a building constructed in 1977.

The $98.8 million contract was awarded to Walsh/DeMaria Joint Venture V of Chicago, Ill., on Sept. 30. Construction is scheduled to be completed in spring 2014.

This will be VA’s first and only Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center to be combined with a Blind Rehabilitation Center. At 174,000 square feet, this new facility is the largest consolidated rehabilitation center in VA. The Rehabilitation Center includes 24 beds for the polytrauma program, 32 beds for the blind rehabilitation program and 12 beds for the polytrauma transitional rehabilitation program.

The center will also have an outpatient physical therapy/occupational therapy clinic, an outpatient physical medicine and rehabilitation clinic, and clinical programs for Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans. In addition to the new Polytrauma-Blind Rehabilitation Center, a 600-car, four-story parking garage will be constructed adjacent to the new facility to support the growing demand for onsite parking.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.