Veteran David Crenshaw and his service dog Doc at a press conference in Capitol Hill promoting the House Act, HR 1022, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act, or PAWS Act, on March 3, 2021. (JOE GROMELSKI)
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden signed law Wednesday that would allow some veterans with mental illness to receive service dogs.
The new law directs the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop and launch a five-year pilot program providing service dog training to veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Previously, the VA only covered some service dog costs for veterans with certain physical disabilities, such as blindness, hearing impairment, and mobility problems – but not for mental illness.
Biden signed the bill in the Oval Office. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., Who led the legislation through Congress, attended the ceremony.
“I have had the opportunity to visit veterans and their service dogs in my district, and it couldn’t be clearer how service dogs are making our veterans’ lives better,” Slotkin said in a statement Wednesday. “By waking them out of PTSD-related nightmares, helping them open doors, or finding an exit in a crowded room, it can be transformative.”
The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act (PAWS Act) requires the VA to start the pilot program in early 2022, and it must be conducted by at least five VA medical centers. The facilities will work with accredited service dog organizations to conduct the training.
There is a possibility that the program could be extended beyond five years. At the end of the five years, the AOB must report to Congress as to whether it should be extended or made permanent. If it continues, lawmakers will consider expanding the program to include veterans with mental illnesses other than PTSD.
Psychiatric service dogs are task oriented to help people with PTSD, panic disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, and other medical conditions. Among other things, you can get medication, bring your partner an emergency telephone, call the emergency number 911 or a suicide hotline with a K9 emergency telephone, switch on the light and help with emotional overload.
For years, some lawmakers and attorneys have urged the VA to help veterans with PTSD cover the cost of training service dogs. The department claimed there wasn’t enough scientific evidence that dogs helped treat PTSD and its symptoms.
Congress directed the VA to conduct a study on the subject in 2010. The first results were published in March. The study found that veterans who were mated with service dogs experienced a reduction in the severity of their PTSD symptoms and they exhibited fewer suicidal behaviors and ideas.
More results from the study, including its cost-effectiveness as a treatment for PTSD, are expected to be released in September.
“Research clearly shows the benefits a service dog can offer veterans with these symptoms. We are therefore very pleased that this pilot program is becoming law, ”said Christine Myran, Executive Director of the charitable Blue Star Service Dogs, in a statement. “Supporting our veterans is essential to help them transition back to civilian life, and this law will make a real difference to those who take this journey.”
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