Alongside a bipartisan group of members, veterans and their service dogs, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, urged the House to pass a bipartisan bill to help connect veterans with service dogs in their communities. Slotkin co-led the introduction of the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act in October, a bill that would create a pilot program within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to support non-profit organizations that give veterans access to treatment derived from working with service dogs.
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.
“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,” Slotkin said at the press conference. “This is a non-partisan responsibility — and it couldn’t be more clear or urgent as we recognize the staggering rates of suicide among our veterans. For the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have now lost more service members to suicide than we have in combat. That is devastating, that is unacceptable.”
An average of 20 veterans die by suicide every day, and post-traumatic stress (PTS) 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.
“I’m an Army wife, married to a 30-year Army officer. I have a step-daughter who’s a brand new officer, and my other step-daughter is a physician for the VA — so the issues related to our veterans when they come home are extremely personal to everyone in my family,” Slotkin continued. “I am incredibly proud to be co-leading this bill to connect veterans with service dogs in their communities — both through training and adoption, to improve the outcomes for veterans’ mental health and well-being.”
Slotkin was joined at the press conference today by members of both parties leading the bill, including U.S. Reps. Steve Stivers (OH-15), Michael Waltz (FL-06), Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Kathleen Rice (NY-04), as well as veterans who spoke to the positive impact service dogs have on their mental and physical health.
“I have watched this in real time affect people that I know — when I was working at the Pentagon we had two employees, veterans who were bringing their dogs to work every day,” Slotkin added. “The question should be, have we done everything that we can do for our veterans who are suffering today — not in ten years, and not in 20 years.”
In her remarks, Slotkin highlighted two organizations in Livingston County that work to train service dogs and connect them with veterans: Veteran Service Dogs in Howell, and Blue Star Service Dogs in Pinckney, Michigan.
“We do indeed have two incredible organizations in Livingston County who help train dogs and connect them with veterans who need them — and this bill would set up a pilot program through the VA to work with nonprofits like these to create work-therapy programs for veterans,” Slotkin said.
“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, Michigan, upon the bill’s introduction.
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 Service members (PAWS) Act (H.R. 2327). The Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act was passed by the House of Representatives in the 114th Congress.