A bill to connect more veterans with service dogs trained to support mental health conditions has passed the Senate. The Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members for Veterans Therapy Act, or PAWS Act for short, will require the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to train service dogs. Once signed into law, the $10 million, five-year pilot program will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
The PAWS ACT authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program to connect service dogs with veterans dealing with post-deployment mental health needs by awarding grants to nonprofit organizations that would provide veterans with puppies to become therapeutic service dogs, as well as cover the cost of training the puppies.
Additionally, the bill will amend title 38, United States Code, and authorize the Secretary of VA to provide service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses who do not have mobility impairments. The American Legion testified in support of a previous version of this bill in 2017. “Service dogs can act as an effective complementary therapy treatment component, especially for those veterans who suffer on a daily basis from the physical and psychological wounds of war,” wrote The American Legion.
The Department of Veterans Affairs will work with organizations like K9s for Warriors, a Florida nonprofit organization that provides service dogs to veterans. Rory Diamond, the CEO of K9s for Warriors said that of the more than 700 veterans who have been through the K9s for Warriors program, 72 percent had attempted suicide before being paired with their service dogs. Jeremy Van Beek, the founder of Get Your Six K9′s Service Dogs said veterans with PTSD had been left out to dry. “They would ask, our well-being isn’t enough? And now a lot of veterans didn’t come forward that probably needed this and unfortunately are not with us today because it wasn’t a well respected idea.” Van Beek said.
Michael Thorpe, a veteran and dog trainer for Elite Canines said he is living proof that service dogs can make a difference for those with PTSD. “I had tons of panic attacks, I had tons of nightmares and before I got my dog Fecto, I would just stay in all the time and it was a nightmare for me.”
Senator Kevin Cramer, who helped get the bill passed said “Many veterans with mobility impairments have had their lives changed — in some cases, saved — by service dogs. Our bill would expand this treatment by launching a pilot program to make veterans with mental health issues such as depression eligible to receive service dogs. It’s a big deal for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. I think it’ll lower the suicide rate and give these veterans their lives back.”