We’ve all seen videos of ecstatic, crying pups welcoming their service-member-humans back home. And it’s okay; we get a little teary-eyed too.
So it seems obvious that our wounded and disabled veterans should naturally have unparalleled access to medical and therapeutic treatment. Sadly, that isn’t always the case, particularly when it comes to service and support animals.
The PAWS Act
But a bill currently in the Senate called Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers, or PAWS, would make access to K-9 therapeutic animals much easier for veterans, especially those suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Currently, Veterans Affairs covers much of the cost of acquiring a service dog for veterans with physical disabilities, but not those with PTSD.
The bill is bipartisan legislation brought to the floor by Congresswoman Deb Fischer of Nebraska. It would give the Office of Veterans Affairs (VA) millions of dollars to connect veterans, especially those with PTSD, with animals.
The VA has consistently refused to acknowledge the many benefits of emotional support animals in treating PTSD. The agency has also provided funding only for service animals, not emotional support animals, to service members with PTSD.
The bill is garnering massive support and approval from animal rights activists groups along with advocates for disabled veterans.
“Many disabled veterans already benefit from the assistance of service dogs in dealing with physical disabilities. Increasingly, studies are demonstrating that service dogs also play a significant role in helping sufferers of PTSD manage common day-to-day situations that would otherwise prove untenable,” Sheila H. Goffe, Vice President, Government Relations of the American Kennel Club said in a press release.
“This program is a humane and fitting way to honor veterans who have served our nation and now need our support,” Goffe added.
Mike Bober, president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, commended the bill, saying, “The emotional and physical benefits of the human-animal bond are scientifically-documented, and we owe it to our veterans to provide them with access to service dogs who are specifically trained to meet their unique needs.”
Similarly, Jeremiah Blocker, Executive Director of the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, voiced hope that the bill would succeed this time.
“We are thrilled to see the Senate address this long overlooked problem. Recognizing and funding service dogs for our wounded warriors is critical to meeting their needs,” Booker said. “Our service members deserve the best treatment options available and it is important to finally recognize service dogs as a treatment option for veterans.”
How We Got Here
K9s for Warriors, the country’s largest supplier of service dogs for disabled veterans, and long-time supporter of such bills, has strongly voiced its support for the measure.
“The PAWS Act passing would be a victory for all American heroes suffering from the invisible wound of PTSD,” said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s for Warriors. “This symbolizes hope—not only for veterans themselves, but for everyone who loves them and is desperate to help them reclaim their lives.”
Congressman John Rutherford, who brought a previous version of the PAWS bill to the House in 2019, has also pledged support. His earlier version ultimately failed.
“It is heartbreaking that twenty veterans take their own lives each day,” Rutherford said in a statement. “We must do more to help those with PTSD and other service-connected forms of trauma. Providing service dogs to veterans is a proven therapy for PTSD…The PAWS Act will support organizations who pair service dogs with veterans to help our warfighters lead productive and successful lives once they return to civilian life.”
What’s In The Bill?
The bill provides grants of up to $25,000 for a wounded warrior to find a forever furry friend. The bill would provide $10 million over the 3-year course of the program.
It seems Veterans Affairs is finally changing course on a bill that’s been brought to the table several times before in various forms, none of which passed.
We’ve documented several special moments between pups and their soldiers before:
- See how a soldier repaid the dog that saved his life in combat
- This 4-legged guy just couldn’t say goodbye to his buddy
- A Purple Heart recipient is reunited with his K9 (who also got a Purple Heart)
We’ll keep an eye on the bill’s progress and keep you updated.