Veterans may have another resource to purchase service dogs soon after President Joe Biden signed a law called the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act or PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act.
The bill requires the US Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a pilot dog training therapy program and authorizes the VA to provide service dogs to certain qualified veterans.
The dog training therapy pilot program will provide dog training skills and service dogs to veterans with mental illness, whether or not they have mobility issues, according to a joint publication by the congressmen who sponsored the bill.
Jeremiah Blocker, executive director of the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, based in Arlington, said the program represents many years of effort to get service dogs accepted as a treatment option.
“We are grateful to the leaders of Congress who assisted our veterans in passing this important law,” said Blocker. “Veterans’ lives will be saved, the quality of life will improve, and positive results will result from the passage of the PAWS Act.”
According to a report by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the percentage of veterans with mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder rose from 27% in 2001 to over 40% in 2014, and an average of 20 veterans per day died from suicide in 2014.
The bipartisan PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act aims to reduce veterans’ suicide related to mental illness by working with service dogs for veterans with symptoms of PTSD and other post-posting issues. Canine therapy programs have a track record in reducing symptoms associated with PTSD and through this pilot program veterans are expected to experience improved quality of life and the opportunity to re-enter society, as well as increased chances of survival.
U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, said the bill will be of benefit to veterans living with mental illness after the deployment.
“Many disabled veterans have changed their lives through service dogs – sometimes saved them -” says Cramer. “Our bill would expand this treatment by launching a pilot program to challenge veterans with mental health problems such as depression for accepting service dogs.”