May 03 2017

Senators Fischer and Booker Reintroduce PAWS Act

Legislation Would Provide Service Dogs to Veterans Suffering from PTSD

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to help service members suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The bill, known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members (PAWS) Act, would help improve the quality of life for veterans suffering from PTSD by providing them with access to service dogs.

“Veterans with PTSD may have left the battlefield, but they are still in a tough fight. Service dogs can provide support, peace, and joy to these Americans as they confront the invisible scars of war. Through the PAWS Act, we can bring our veterans relief by offering them hope,” said Senator Fischer.

“We owe a deep debt to veterans who have so bravely defended our liberties. Service dogs can be an effective approach to supporting veterans who are struggling with PTSD or other combat-related illnesses, just as they have shown to be effective for physically disabled veterans. Our bipartisan bill will enable the VA to provide grants for service dogs to provide comfort for our heroes and improved quality of life as they re-adapt to civilian life,” said Senator Booker.

PTSD is a serious problem for our nation’s veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD in a given year. Research indicates that PTSD is notoriously difficult to treat, and many veterans do not seek or continue treatment.

Service dogs can provide several identifiable benefits to people suffering from PTSD or other combat-related illnesses. Studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy for trauma may lead to a reduction in PTSD symptoms, as well as reduced depression, anxiety, and dissociation symptoms. This therapy can also lead to better sleep quality and a decreased need for medication. While the VA provides service dogs for physically disabled veterans, it does not provide service dogs for veterans living with PTSD.

The PAWS Act directs the VA to implement a five-year pilot program to provide service dogs to veterans who were diagnosed with, and continue to suffer from, PTSD. Under the pilot program, the VA would connect veterans with eligible organizations that train service dogs, and provide a grant to the organizations on behalf of the veteran for a service dog pairing. Veterans would receive follow-up support from the service dog provider for the rest of the dog’s life.

To remain eligible for the program, veterans must see a primary care or mental health care provider at a VA medical facility every 180 days. Following completion of the pilot program, the Government Accountability Office would conduct a program evaluation and submit a report to Congress.

The House version of the PAWS Act was recently introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), and has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Click here to view full text of the bill.