WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). This bill authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program on dog training therapy based on the promising “train the trainer model,” that will provide dog-training skills and service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses, regardless of whether or not they have mobility issues.
“Many veterans with mobility impairments have had their lives changed — in some cases, saved — by service dogs,” said Senator Cramer. “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. I am grateful for my colleagues’ support and look forward to the President signing it.”
“As a Major General, and as a former Congressman who represented 43,000 veterans, I’ve heard from countless individuals who’ve told me that working with a service dog has given them their freedom,” former Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH) said. “These men and women fought to protect the American way of life: the ability to go to work, to spend time with their family, to give back to their communities. With the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, we can make sure that they’re able to enjoy the things they fought to make possible. I’m grateful to the bipartisan coalition that has supported this legislation, and I am glad it is headed to the President's desk.”
“The last 24 hours and the passing of the PAWS Act by the US Senate represent many years of effort and sacrifice by our disabled military veterans in their fight for recognition of service dogs as a treatment option," said Jeremiah Blocker, Executive Director of Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans. "We are grateful to leaders in Congress who supported our veterans by passing this important legislation. Veterans lives will be saved, quality of life will improve and positive outcomes will result from the passage of the PAWS Act.
"This is a huge step for wounded servicemembers and the organizations who serve them," said Amanda Baity, Co-Founder and Director of Operations at SemperK9 Assistance Dogs. "We are very grateful for the hard work our advocates, Members of Congress and their staff have done to make this a reality and look forward to working with VA to save veterans lives."
"Veterans suffering from invisible wounds of war are now one step closer to being afforded the opportunity to seek this unique and scientifically proven treatment through VA," said Bill McCabe, Director of Legislative Affairs at The Enlisted Association. "We thank Sen. Tillis, Sen. Sinema, Sen. Cramer, and Sen. Feinstein for their leadership on this bill and to all of its champions for their bipartisan support. We now urge the President to sign this important legislation without delay."
“We’re encouraged by the passage of this bill by both houses of Congress as an integral first step in the fight against veteran suicide,” said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s For Warriors. “This pilot program will help prove, again, the lifechanging impact a Service Dog can make in mitigating a veteran’s symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress. We are on the path to Service Dogs being a covered benefit for veterans with PTSD.”
According to a report from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the number of veterans with mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use orders increased from 27 percent in 2001 to more than 40 percent in 2014, and an average of 20 veterans per day died by suicide in 2014.
The bipartisan PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act aims to reduce veteran suicide connected to mental health conditions by partnering veterans experiencing symptoms of PTSD and other post-deployment issues with service dogs through a Department of Veterans Affairs pilot program. Dog therapy programs have a track record of reducing symptoms associated with PTSD and through this pilot program, veterans are expected to experience an improved quality of life and ability to re-enter society as well as increased chances of survival.
Read full text of the bill HERE.