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Stivers, Bipartisan Coalition Introduce Bill to Pair Veterans and Service Dogs to Treat Mental Illness

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Washington, September 12, 2019 | comments

WASHINGTON – Today, Representatives Steve Stivers (R-OH), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), John Rutherford (R-FL), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Michael Walz (R-FL), Gil Cisneros (D-CA), Neal Dunn (R-FL), and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), introduced H.R. 4305, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act.

The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act will create a pilot program within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to give veterans access to treatment derived from working with service dogs.  Specifically, the VA will partner with non-profit organizations working with veterans and service dogs to create work-therapy programs wherein veterans learn the art and science of training dogs.  Upon completion of the program, the veterans may adopt their dogs to provide continuing therapy.

An average of 20 veterans die by suicide every day, and post-traumatic stress impacts between 11 and 30 percent of veterans who served in various conflicts.  Research conducted by Kaiser Permanente and Purdue University has shown that working with service dogs alleviates the symptoms of PTS, leading to better interpersonal relationships, lower risk of substance abuse, and overall better mental health.

A true bipartisan collaboration, the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act is a hybrid piece of legislation, reconciling two widely supported bills from the 115th Congress: the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act (H.R. 2225) and the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act (H.R. 2327). 

“A soldier under my command during Operation Iraqi Freedom recently told me what his service dog means to him: he was able to fly on a plane for the first time in 10 years and he took his fiancée to dinner.  That is the impact this bill can have on the lives of our veterans,” Representative Stivers said.  “I’m incredibly grateful to our coalition for their efforts to create this program, and I look forward to getting this bill signed into law so that our veterans can receive the care they need.”

“Service dogs have been proven to help people suffering from a wide array of mental health issues, and that is especially true of veterans living with post-traumatic stress,” said Representative Kathleen Rice. “And with 20 veterans dying every day by suicide, this bill isn't just about improving lives, it's about saving lives. We need to ensure that our veterans have access to every available mental health resource, and that includes service dogs. As a Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I'm proud to support this bill and will continue to fight for our veterans and ensure that they receive the high-quality care they need and deserve.”

“Veterans across the country have experienced firsthand how training and caring for a service dog can help alleviate the symptoms and struggles of PTS.  Because the cost associated with this form of therapy is too high for many individuals to afford on their own, the VA and Congress must step up for our heroes. That’s why I’m proud to cosponsor legislation to support service dog training and adoption as an approved form of PTS therapy under the VA,” said Representative John Rutherford.

“We must do more to take care of our veterans who have sacrificed so much on behalf of us all, particularly those who are suffering from PTSD. The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act recognizes the clear benefits of the relationship between a veteran with PTSD and a specially-trained service dog,” said Representative Mikie Sherrill.  “I’ve met veterans in my community whose lives have been transformed by the relationship with their service dog. This bill is an important and creative way to help our veterans obtain the transformational form of therapy they need.”

“There’s no denying the emotional and psychological benefits dogs have on humans, but for our veterans, that connection is even more impactful. I recently met with veterans in my district who told me they had significantly reduced their medications or no longer needed them because of the love and support of their service dogs. This type of therapy can be life-saving for our veterans and I’m hopeful this legislation will set our American heroes up to live happy, healthy lives,” Representative Michael Waltz said.

“Partnering our veterans that are combating PTSD through a therapeutic medium of training service dogs has had proven emotional and psychological benefits,” said Representative Gil Cisneros. “Service dogs are chosen for their innate ability to understand and intuitively respond to our veterans when dealing with the effects of PTSD. Our veterans deserve to live happy and healthy lives and our four-legged heroes are ready to make a real difference for them.”

“America’s veterans fought for our freedoms, and as a result, many grapple with the physical and mental scars of war.  Ensuring our service members have the resources to heal from these wounds should be a top priority,” Representative Neal Dunn said. “This important legislation is a step in the right direction in addressing a portion of the many needs of our growing veteran population.”

“When we make the decision to send men and women to fight for our country, we should support them for the rest of their lives -- and that responsibility couldn’t be more clear and urgent as we recognize Suicide Prevention Month and the staggering rates of suicide among our veterans,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin said. “I couldn’t be more proud to be co-leading this bipartisan bill to help connect veterans with service dogs in their communities, both through training and through adoption, to improve outcomes for veterans’ mental health and wellbeing.”

The bill text can be found here



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Tags: Veterans

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