House Unanimously Passes Bill To Provide Service Dogs To Veterans With PTSD

by Leah Groth
Service Dog
Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images

A new bill that passed in the House on Wednesday would help provide service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD

Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives have been extremely divided as of late when it comes to voting on everything from, well, um, the impeachment of the President of the United States to immigration. However, when it comes to the benefits that canines can provide war veterans, apparently both parties see eye-to-eye. An important bill passed unanimously in the House on Wednesday to provide service dogs to veterans with mental health issues.

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers, or PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, is a 5-year-plan in which the Department of Veterans Affairs would offer grants to organizations who would teach veterans to train service dogs and also provide service dogs to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress and other various post-deployment mental health issues. If approved by the senate, the pilot program will last for ten years in ten locations throughout the country.

Currently, the VA only provides service animals for use with mobility problems. However, over the last decade, they have been studying the use of canines for treating mental health issues.

Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, a veteran who served in Iraq in the Ohio Army National Guard, introduced the bipartisan bill, using his experience and knowledge of PTSD in veterans as ammunition to get the bill passed.

“A soldier under my command during Operation Iraqi Freedom recently told me what his service dog means to him: he was able to fly on a plane for the first time in 10 years and he took his fiancée to dinner,” he said in a statement when H.R. 4305 was introduced. “That is the impact this bill can have on the lives of our veterans.”

Stivers tweeted about the victory. “The #PAWS4VetsTherapy Act passed the House with unanimous support,” he wrote along with photos of cute service dogs. “I’m proud to fight for policies proven to give veterans a new lease on life. I’ve met with so many brave men and women whose lives have been transformed by working with service dogs — this is for you.”

“Our veterans fought for our freedom, and I’ve heard from many veterans who say that’s exactly what their service dog gives them — freedom. They’re free to go to restaurants, to fly on planes, to go to the movies, things that post-traumatic stress had made impossible,” Stivers added in a statement. “Today’s vote is a huge step towards getting veterans the care they’ve earned and need. I’m incredibly grateful to the cosponsors of this bill and look forward to it passing the Senate and becoming law.”

Why can’t veterans just get a service dog on their own? “The process of obtaining a service dog is lengthy and costly, a cost that is out of reach for many veterans,” Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane president, explained in a press release. “This is long overdue.”

The VA first started studying the use of service dogs for treating PTSD in 2010, however, they had some complications including two of the dogs biting children and some dogs experiencing health complications. They went on to restart the research and will release their first findings in summer 2020. Then, six months later, they will release statistics surrounding “health economics savings,” which will reveal just how much money can be saved by the program due to factors such as reduced hospital stays and medication costs.