U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (R-Holly) and U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio co-led the introduction of H.R. 4305, the bipartisan Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act, to help connect veterans with service dogs in their communities.
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 where veterans also learn about 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 (PTSD) impacts between 11 and 30 percent of veterans who served. Research conducted by Kaiser Permanente and Purdue University has shown that working with service dogs alleviates the symptoms of PTSD, leading to better interpersonal relationships, lower risk of substance abuse, and overall better mental health.
“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 the staggering rates of suicide among our veterans,” 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.”
Blue Star Service Dogs in Pinckney, Michigan a non-profit that rescues and trains shelter dogs, pairing them with combat veterans diagnosed with invisible wounds like PTSD –– is an organization that could directly benefit from the PAWS Act.
“We are excited to see this veteran-focused pilot program to support service dog training and veterans’ access to training and adoption. It’s important to make support and resources available in our community wherever veterans may need it – and this bill will help veterans heal,” said Christine Myran, Executive Director of Blue Star Service Dogs in Pinckney.
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). The Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act was passed by the House of Representatives in the 114th Congress.
“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,” 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.”