VA doesn’t pay for service dogs for veterans with PTS. This bill would change that.

Abbie Bennett
June 10, 2019 - 12:11 pm
ServiceDog

Photo by Chad Brown

Veterans with post-traumatic stress could have more opportunities to get a service dog paid for by the VA if a new bill becomes law.

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members (PAWS) Act introduced by Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to implement a five-year program to issue grants to nonprofits that provide service dogs to veterans with PTS.

The PAWS Act provides the funds needed for veterinary health insurance for the dogs, hardware for the dogs to perform tasks to help their veterans and payment for travel for the veteran to bring the service dog home.

The bill is intended to make service dogs more accessible to veterans who want an alternative to traditional medical PTS treatment and is an attempt to reduce the rate of veteran death by suicide.

The VA estimates that 11-20 percent of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTS, about 12 percent of Gulf War veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans. Non-combat veterans who have experienced trauma such as military sexual assault also can develop PTS.

“This bill is essential to veterans who need psychiatric service dogs,” said Christopher Baity, founder and executive director of Virginia-based Semper K9 Assistance Dogs. “It will ensure that the highest quality service dogs are being placed with those veterans by reputable organizations.”

“It is heartbreaking that 20 veterans take their own lives each day,” Rutherford said. “We must do more to help those with PTSD and other service-connected forms of trauma. Providing service dogs to veterans is a proven therapy for PTSD, but for many, the cost associated with training and raising these animals is too great. The PAWS Act will support organizations who pair service dogs with veterans to help our warfighters lead productive and successful lives once they return to civilian life.”

The bill also requires the VA to develop data to measure how veterans’ psychosocial functions change because of the service dogs and any changes in dependence on prescription narcotics.

To be eligible to receive the grants under the act, nonprofits would have to meet certain requirements, including:

Be a nonprofit that provides service dogs to veterans with PTS;

Meet the national standard of the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans;

Have expertise in the needs of veterans with PTS;

Agree to cover costs associated with providing services if greater than the grant amount;

Agree to re-accept or replace any service dog provided to a veteran using the grant.

“Funding through PAWS will be focused only on organizations that adhere to national standards created and maintained by the leading experts in providing service dogs to military veterans,” said Jeremiah Blocker, executive director of the ASDPMV.

The bill has been referred to the House Veterans Affairs Committee for consideration. From there, it could be referred to another committee, folded into another bill or it could be recommended for a vote on the floor. 

For more information on potential warning signs of suicide, click here.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (select option 1 for a VA staff member). Veterans, service members or their families also can text 838255 or go to veteranscrisisline.net.

Follow Abbie Bennett, @AbbieRBennett.