When I put on my uniform to serve as a Brigadier General with the Ohio National Guard, I see firsthand the various challenges that other brave men and women encounter while protecting our nation. Time and time again, the invisible challenges of post-traumatic stress (PTS) and other mental illnesses impact my fellow servicemembers, and it is our duty as Members of Congress to provide the specified care for our warriors that they need and deserve.
As we recognize Suicide Prevention Awareness Month this September, we know that mental illness and PTS does not discriminate, not by age, or gender, not by veteran status, and certainly not by political party. That is why a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and veteran service organizations have come together to find a solution: the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act. I have introduced this bipartisan legislation along with Representatives Kathleen Rice, John Rutherford, Mikie Sherrill, Neal Dunn, Gil Cisneros, Michael Waltz, and Elissa Slotkin to allow veterans to access the proven benefits that working with service dogs can have in treating mental illness.
This policy will create a five-year pilot program in which VA partners with non-profit organizations committed to improving the lives of veterans by pairing them with service dogs. The organizations will then instruct the veterans in the art and science of dog training, and following the training, veterans may then adopt their dog to provide continuing therapy.
Simply put, these animals have the potential to create a turning point in the lives of veterans. Anyone who has had a dog in their life knows the overwhelming joy and support they provide. I have heard from many veterans about the positive impact dogs have made to their own overall well-being. One soldier who served under my command in Operation Iraqi Freedom has told me that having a dog with him has given him his life back: he flew on an airplane for the first time in ten years, and he was able to take his fiancée to dinner - routine activities others likely take for granted. But for him, his service dog has meant a return to normalcy. Dogs have the potential to immediately provide therapeutic value, and in the long-term, improve one’s quality of life.
But the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act is not just based on anecdotes. The effectiveness of service dog training programs in treating PTS is supported by research from Kaiser Permanente and Purdue University, which has shown veterans who work with service dogs have improved social connections, increased community participation and physical activity, and a lower risk of substance abuse.
The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act will pave a pathway to directly improve countless lives. It is important that we commit to continue listening to the concerns and feedback our veterans voice, and quickly find common-sense, bipartisan solutions. These men and women have served us, it is time that we serve them.
If you would like to learn more about this legislation or other efforts to improve mental health, contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-2015, my Hilliard office at (614) 771-4968, my Lancaster office at (740) 654-2654, or my Wilmington office at (937) 283-7049.