Newly Introduced Bill Would Provide Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD
A recently introduced bill called the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members Act of 2021 (PAWS) bill, sets up a grant program that would provide service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD or TBIs. For many veterans, these dogs can provide more than just emotional support.
Recent studies have shown that some veterans have been able to reduce the amount of medication they need or alleviate their overall symptoms just by having a service dog. Senator Deborah Fischer recognized this as an opportunity to push for a bill that would fund service dog programs for these veterans.
If the bill were to pass, it would establish a three-year pilot program to be administered by the VA. Organizations and trainers accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation or Assistance Dogs International would receive the grants, which are $25,000 or less. Additionally, these organizations and trainers must have an understanding of the unique needs of veterans with PTSD or TBI in order to qualify for the grant.
The PAWS grant would go further by providing funding for a lifetime of veterinary health insurance for the dog, service dog hardware, and travel expenses needed for the dog. Currently, the VA does cover service dogs for veterans with other physical disabilities, but it does not cover veterans with PTSD.
The initial training of these dogs is a costly endeavor, ranging between $30,000 and $50,000. It can also take up to two years before the dog is ready for a given veteran, after which the veteran must continue to train the dog for one or two times a week for another year or more. “Training includes work on general manners, scent training with samples of stress hormones collected from the veteran to alert them when the client becomes anxious, public access training, and specific tasks that are tailored to the veteran,” says Michelle Nelson, CPDT-KA, Ph.D. of Paws Assisting Veterans (PAVE).
The investment in these service dogs goes a really long way. They are able to help veterans perform tasks that directly help with the veteran’s specific disability. Tasks like turning on light switches, pulling covers off a bed, standing in front or back of a veteran, and shaking hands with strangers are all possibilities for these animals that can substantially reduce the impact of a given veteran’s conditions.
Veterans with TBI can suffer from physical disabilities that service dogs can assist with, such as opening doors, retrieving items, and pressing an emergency button to call for help.
Hearings for the bill were held last week after an initial introduction in March of 2021. There is currently no set date for further hearings or a vote.