House votes unanimously to pass Slotkin bill connecting vets with service dogs

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A bipartisan bill U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) co-led in the House to help connect veterans with service dogs in their communities passed the House today with unanimous support.

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act, led by U.S. reps. Slotkin and Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), would establish a pilot program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide veterans coping with post-traumatic stress with work therapy by learning the art and science of training dogs for service.

Last week, Slotkin successfully brought the legislation to the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus for an endorsement. Reps. Slotkin and Stivers worked to fast track the legislation to the floor for a full vote, using a new rule that stipulates that a bill with 290 co-sponsors will receive a timely vote. Slotkin took a leading role in whipping support to bring new members onto the bill.

“When we make the decision to send young men and women to fight for our country, we make the decision to support them for the rest of their lives,” said Slotkin. “This is a non-partisan responsibility, which is why I am proud to co-lead this bill in the House, and why I’m thrilled there is such strong bipartisan support for this legislation to help connect veterans with service dogs in their communities and, through both training and adoption, improve veterans’ mental health and well-being.”

Two organizations in Livingston County, Blue Star Service Dogs in Pinckney and Veteran Service Dogs in Howell, could directly benefit from the PAWS Act, and both endorse the legislation.

“This legislation could support the efforts of organizations like Blue Star Service Dogs and Veteran Service Dogs, both based in Livingston County, who are doing incredible work to pair veterans with service dogs right here in our district,” Slotkin added. “In December, I had a chance to visit Blue Star Service Dogs in Pinckney, to see the dogs in action, and to hear directly from veterans about how these service dogs are helping them heal from depression, PTSD, and other ‘invisible’ service-related wounds. Passing this legislation couldn’t be more urgent as we recognize the staggering rates of suicide among our veterans, and I couldn’t be more proud to see it pass the House today.”

“We’re so excited to see the PAWS Act pass the House with bipartisan support,” said Christine Myran, executive director of Blue Star Service Dogs. “The veteran-focused pilot program this legislation establishes through the VA would support veterans’ access to service dogs – supporting the work of organizations like ours who are working to help veterans heal. It’s important to make support and resources available wherever veterans may need it, and this bill will help more veterans get connected with service dogs in their communities.”

“This legislation represents a first, significant step within government to support this method of treatment for veterans, and the PAWS Act has our full support,” said Kirk Lanam, executive director of Veteran Service Dogs Organization. “Through our organization’s work, we have seen firsthand the immense impact that service dogs have on our veterans, and we support any initiative that promotes education, acceptance, and continuing that mission.”

Under the bill, the VA will partner with non-profit organizations working with veterans and service dogs to create work-therapy programs where veterans play a central role in training the service dogs. Upon completion of the program, the veterans may adopt their dogs to provide continuing therapy. Dogs who complete training will have a unique set of skills to help treat post-traumatic stress, including “blocking,” which helps a veteran maintain personal space in public, and waking a veteran experiencing a nightmare.

Depending on the conflict era, anywhere from 11 to 30 percent of veterans who served are impacted by post-traumatic stress. Nationwide, an average of 17 veterans die by suicide every day. The therapy offered by the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act is backed by research from Purdue University and Kaiser Permanente that has shown that working with service dogs alleviates symptoms of  post-traumatic stress, leading to better interpersonal relations, lower risk of substance abuse, and overall better mental health.

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