WASHINGTON, DC – The US House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to approve a bill penned by Steve Stivers, MP for Upper Arlington, to set up a U.S. Department of Veterinary Medicine pilot program teaching veterinary service dog training as a form of therapy .
Stivers’ Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for the Veterans Therapy Act would work with nonprofit canine training organizations to teach their skills to veterans affected by post-traumatic stress. The dogs are trained to block things like a veteran to give them space in a crowd or to wake them up when they have a nightmare. Veterans who complete the program can adopt their service dog if they wish to continue therapy.
Stivers, a major general in the Ohio National Guard who is leaving Congress later this week to head the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, said he has met numerous veterans struggling with “the invisible wounds of war” and with the help of the service “Getting their lives back” dogs. He said an average of 20 veterans die from suicide each day, and post-traumatic stress occurs between 11 and 30 percent of veterans who have served in various conflicts.
Stivers’ office said the VA recently revealed the results of a study showing that mating post-traumatic stress (PTS) veterans with service dogs reduced PTS symptoms and suicide. Previous research by Kaiser Permanente and Purdue University has shown that veterans who work with service dogs have fewer symptoms of PTS and depression, resulting in better interpersonal relationships, lower risk of substance abuse, and better overall mental health, the office said by Stivers.
The Senate counterpart of the measure is pending on its Veterans Affairs Committee. Speaking to the House of Representatives, Stivers said he hoped the measure could be “underlined” by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden by Memorial Day.
“These programs work,” Stivers continued. “They’re reducing the amount of psychiatric drugs these veterans take. They reduce suicide. They improve overall mental health … We can’t afford to wait any longer. “
“This is a crisis, we can’t look the other way,” agreed New York Democratic MP Kathleen Rice. “We need to make sure that our veterans have access to all available mental health resources.”
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