Veterans may soon have another source to acquire service dogs after President Joe Biden signed legislation called the “Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act” or the “PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act.”
The bill requires the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program on dog training therapy and authorizes the VA to provide service dogs to certain qualifying veterans.
The pilot program on dog training therapy will provide dog-training skills and service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses, regardless of whether they have mobility issues, according to a joint release from 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 for service dogs to be accepted as a treatment option.
“We are grateful to leaders in Congress who supported our veterans by passing this important legislation,” Blocker said. “Veterans’ lives will be saved, quality of life will improve and positive outcomes will result from the passage of the PAWS Act.”
According to a report from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the percentage of veterans with mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders increased from 27% in 2001 to more than 40% 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. 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.
U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, said the bill is a win for veterans who live with post-deployment mental health conditions.
“Many veterans with mobility impairments have had their lives changed – in some cases, saved – by service dogs,” said 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.”