House group lawmakers are fighting for better access to service dogs for veterans with PTSD
WASHINGTON – A group of House lawmakers reaffirms calling for increased access to service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder as a growing body of studies show the treatment is working.
Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., On Wednesday reinstated the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act, which aims to create a $ 10 million grant program under the direction of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill allows qualified nonprofits to receive a grant of $ 25,000 per veteran to mate that person with a service dog.
Representatives Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) And Chris Pappas (DN.H.) came to Rutherford Wednesday to support the bill at a legislation announcement event.
Waltz, a former Green Beret and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he had personally suffered from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and recognized the benefits of serving dogs.
“I went this route and these dogs are absolutely working. … We will pass this bill, ”he said.
When Rutherford reintroduced the PAWS Act in 2019, it was supported by both parties, but further measures failed. The legislation was first introduced in 2016.
Rutherford said he hoped it would become law this time after the VA released a draft study that “has scientifically proven that it works – something we’ve known all along”.
The VA did not publicly publish the draft study and did not immediately respond to a request for a copy of the report on Wednesday.
The department started a congressional-mandated study of service dogs and PTSD in 2015. The results of the study were expected in summer 2020, but were never published.
According to a VA study published in 2020 that analyzed data from 2005-2018, the suicide rate among veterans has steadily increased in recent years. According to the report, veterans accounted for 13.8% of all suicide deaths in 2018, despite raising public awareness of the problem.
Speaking at the event, Rory Diamond, the CEO of K9s For Warriors, one of the largest nonprofit that links service dogs to veterans, said lowering veteran suicide rates underscored the importance of the bill.
“We saw the magic of what a service dog can do for a disabled veteran with really extreme PTSD. We’re on the front lines in the fight against veteran suicide … and we’re beating the odds. That is why this law is so important and needs to be passed, ”he said.
Among the 660 veterans K9s For Warriors has served, 72% attempted suicide before reaching the group, Diamond said.
According to Stivers, between 20 and 22 veterans die of suicide every day.
The congressman, who tabled a similar bill this week, cited research by Kaiser Permanente showing veterans who work with service dogs have fewer symptoms of PTSD and depression, a lower risk of substance abuse, and improved overall mental health.
Stivers said there are two different bills, but “we are one and we work together. One for all and all for one in veteran dog therapy. “
The VA has “finally released a draft study that recognizes what science at Purdue and Kaiser Permanente, and what K9s For Warriors sees each time they graduate from a class: Service dogs make a big difference to our veterans with PTSD. You’re saving your life, ”he said.
Funding, provided under the PAWS Act, goes to nonprofits like K9s For Warriors, which often train and connect service dogs to veterans with mental illness for free.
Diamond said a service dog could play a variety of roles in a veteran’s life, more than just basic needs like constant companionship.
If the person can focus on their dog in the midst of a panic attack or other mental crisis and continue to pet the pet, symptoms such as cloudy vision, sweating, increased heart rate, and anxiety can subside, Diamond said.
“If you do this enough times, when these things happen, it stops happening … and that’s the genius. It’s like an amazing bridge back into the world, ”he said.
According to K9s For Warriors, the VA does not currently fully fund service dog programs. According to a 2019 New York Times report, the VA has also pushed back efforts like the PAWS Act and cited a lack of research into the treatment’s benefits.
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, speaks at a press conference on Capitol Hill to promote the HR 1022 House Bill, the PAWS Assistance Act, March 3, 2021. Behind him, from left to right, is veteran David Crenshaw, Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., Rep. Chris Pappas, DN.H. and Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla.
JOE GROMELSKI / STARS AND STRIPES