Jun 21 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the Service Dogs Assisting Veterans (SAVES) Act, bipartisan legislation that would establish a program to award grants to nonprofit organizations to assist them in carrying out programs to provide service dogs to eligible veterans. The legislation builds on the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act that was introduced by Senator Tillis and signed into law.

It is estimated that upwards of 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have PTSD and more than 450,000 service members have been diagnosed with at least one traumatic brain injury over the past two decades. As a result, these veterans suffer from alarmingly high rates of depression, anxiety, joblessness, homelessness, substance use disorder and other negative behaviors. Far too often, they resort to taking their own lives – roughly 20 veterans die by suicide each day, nearly one an hour. 

“Long after the fighting on the battlefield ends, too many of the courageous servicemembers come home and continue to battle against enemies that many consider just as insidious as those with guns, grenades, and rockets. That is why in 2021, I introduced the PAWS Act that created a pilot program to provide canine training to eligible veterans, but it is clear we must continue to build on that effort to ensure this program is expanded to veterans in need,” said Senator Tillis. “The SAVES Act will allow more veterans who are struggling with the invisible wounds of war to receive service dogs that could ultimately save their lives. We must repay the debt to the men and women who served our country, I hope congress quickly passes this legislation to provide them with his important resource.”

“Service dogs offer invaluable support and comfort to our veterans. When our heroes struggle with PTSD and other service-related injuries during their adjustment to life at home, canine companions are right by their side,” said Senator Blumenthal. “These grants for nonprofits will provide veterans with the resources they need to prioritize their health and wellbeing. I’m proud to join Senator Tillis in this bipartisan effort.”

“From mobility to mental health, I’ve seen firsthand the meaningful change service dogs can have for veterans,” said Senator Cramer. “We should build on the success they have had by making more well-trained service dogs available to veterans who need them.”

“Our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices for our nation, and we need to do everything in our power to make sure they have the support they need and have earned,” said Heinrich. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan legislation to make sure our nation’s heroes can access the companionship and therapeutic support of service dogs.”

Under the SAVES Act, nonprofit organizations would be required to submit an application to the Secretary that includes a description of the training that will be provided by the organization to eligible veterans; the training of dogs that will serve as service dogs; the aftercare services that the organization will provide for the service dogs and eligible Veteran; the plan for publicizing the availability of service dogs through a marketing campaign; the committee of the organization to have humane standards or animals. Nonprofit organizations would also need to certify that they are accredited by Assistance Dogs International or another widely recognized accreditation organization. 

The SAVES Act is supported by Vietnams Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans Association, National Military Families Association, TREA: The Enlisted Association, Jewish War Veterans of America, K9s for Warriors, Mission Roll Call, Kayas K9, Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, and Dog Tag Buddies.

“Service Dogs have a proven track record of providing life-saving assistance to veterans,” said K9s For Warriors CEO, Carl Cricco. “The SAVES Act will ultimately put more Service Dogs in the hands of veterans in critical need, allowing them to regain their independence and reintegrate into civilian life. We applaud Senators Tillis, Blumenthal, Cramer, and Heinrich for their commitment to our nation's heroes and urge Congress to pass this important legislation without delay.”

“Service dogs provide critical assistance to disabled veterans with the greatest support needs, allowing them increased independence in their daily lives,” said Associate Executive Director of Government Relations for Paralyzed Veterans of America Heather Ansley. “We appreciate the efforts of Senators Tillis, Blumenthal, Cramer, and Heinrich to support veterans with disabilities through this important legislation."

“The tremendous benefits and transformative effects service dogs provide to veterans experiencing visual impairments, as well as those diagnosed with other physical and/or psychological wounds of military service is becoming more and more evident,” said Donald Overton, Executive Director of the Blinded Veterans Association. “Improved independence, increased social interaction, reduced stress, and enhanced family relationships are but a few of the benefits realized by service dog handlers. We express our gratitude to Senators Tillis, Blumenthal, Cramer, and Heinrich for their bipartisan introduction of the SAVES Act and call on Congressional leadership to prioritize this initiative, thus honoring the tremendous sacrifice our nation’s blinded and disabled veterans have made in defense of our great nation.” 

“Veterans deserve every possible resource to improve their mental health and well being. Senator Tillis’ legislation will do that.  Not only will it help mitigate the circumstances that lead to Veteran suicide, but service dogs have also been proven to get Veterans back to leading productive lives.” – Aniela Szymanski, Chief Policy Officer of the Chief Warrant and Warrant Officers Association of the US Coast Guard.

Read text of the bill here.