In a major victory for the men and women who served in our armed forces, the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act unanimously passed a House vote, providing an opportunity for veterans living with the invisible wounds of war to be paired with service dogs.
The U.S. House unanimously passed H.R. 4305, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act. The legislation requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to implement a 5-year pilot program that would measure the effectiveness of addressing post-deployment mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by allowing veterans with disabilities to train and adopt service dogs.
Under the bill, the VA will provide grants to nonprofit organizations that teach veterans how to train service dogs. Once the program is completed, veterans can adopt their dogs for continued therapy.
According to the analyses of veteran suicide published by the Department of Veterans Affairs in August 2016 titled “Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans”, and in June 2018, titled “VA National Suicide Date Report,” an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day, with suicide rates being highest among patients with mental health and substance use disorder diagnoses who are in treatment.
The bill stated that, because of these findings, The VA “must be more effective in its approach to reducing the burden of veteran suicide connected to mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder,” citing growing scientific and anecdotal evidence that service dogs ameliorate the symptoms associated with PTSD, and in particular, help prevent veteran suicide.
“Researchers, doctors, and veterans report the same thing: service dogs are a transformational form of therapy for our veterans with PTSD,” said Representative Mikie Sherrill. “Service dogs help create bonds of trust and love with veterans, soothing the invisible wounds of war. Right now, it is incredibly expensive and difficult for veterans to access the care that service dogs can provide. I’m proud that the House overwhelmingly supported this mission-based therapy and I thank Representative Stivers for his tireless leadership on this issue. We were able to get more than 300 co-sponsors for this bill — proof that we can work together to make sure veterans get the treatment they deserve.”
The Humane Society of the United States applauded the bill’s passing, saying, “once the service dogs are trained, they can be invaluable companions for veterans. They often alert their owners to PTSD triggers, such as crowded areas or unanticipated risks. They can also help to reduce their handlers’ anxiety by providing security and a calming effect. And any dog breed is fit to serve, including Labradors, golden retrievers, mixed breeds and animals rescued from shelters.”
Veterans who wish to apply for this program must be recommended by a qualified health care provider and must agree to successfully complete training provided by the eligible organization.
The bill now moves to the Senate for a vote. If passed, the VA has 120 days to implement the program.