A bill was passed to connect more veterans and service dogs that are trained to support mental health issues and it’s now at the desk of President Joe Biden.
Recently, the Senate passed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers of PAWS, for Veterans Therapy Act, which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to design a pilot program for veterans with PTSD to train service dogs.
This bill will also allow, but doesn’t mandate that the VA provide service dogs to vets with mental health conditions.
The Bill Is Expected to Become a Law
Since it passed The House in May, the bill is now at the President’s and waiting to become a law. According to Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., one of the cosponsors of the bill, a lot of veterans with mobility impairments have had their lives changed and, in some cases, saved by service dogs.
This bill, he explains, expands this treatment through the pilot program which will make veterans with mental health problems like depression eligible for service dogs.
Under this legislation, the VA should work with organizations that will train the dogs. Among the supporters of this legislation is K9 for Warriors, a Florida-based non-profit which has connected around 700 service dogs with veterans.
The CEO of the group, Rory Diamond, says that this new law will put the VA on a path to cover service dogs for PTSD veterans.
Diamond also said in a press release that this program will prove, again, the life-changing influence that a service dog can have in reducing the symptoms of PTSD.
Currently, the VA covers the vet costs of service dogs for veterans with physical disabilities, including mobility problems and blindness.
This new law doesn’t require the VA to do the same for the service dogs that are trained for mental health support, but it gives the department a chance to do it if they have the funds and if they want to.
In the past few years, several versions of the PAWS Act have been introduced in Congress, but failed to become a law, mostly because the VA said they were waiting for the results of a scientific study to find out if the dogs trained for support of veterans with PTSD and other mental health issues are more effective than companion dogs.
Do Trained Service Dogs Offer more Relief for PTSD Veterans than Companion Dogs?
In the past, the VA has raised concerns about the influence on the veteran’s mental health when their support dog dies, which is inevitable considering dogs’ lifespan is between 10 and 16 years.
The VA released the results of a decade-old effort to find out if trained service dogs can reduce PTSD symptoms better than their pets. The verdict is that they do. Although both of these animals help relieve the symptoms of PTSD, the results were more important in those who had a service dog.
Moreover, the veterans who were paired with service dogs experienced a reduction in suicidal behavior and suicidal ideation at the 18-month point.
What Do Service Dogs Do for Veterans?
The service dogs trained to help people with PTSD are taught a long list of tasks like standing in front or behind their handler to prevent crowds of people from approaching them.
They may also be trained to wake the individual from a nightmare, to turn on the lights, or to “sweep” a room before their handler goes in.
This is pivotal considering the fact that from 2005 to 2008, around 90,000 veterans died by taking their lives. The sponsors of the bill and its supporters say that an out-of-the-box approach to mental health treatment like service dogs could be crucial in the reduction of veteran suicide.