New Law Will Require the VA to Enact a Five-Year Pilot Program to Provide
Service Dog Training to Eligible Veterans Diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress
PONTE VEDRA, Fla. (Aug. 25, 2021) – Earlier today President Joe Biden signed into law the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act (H.R. 1448). The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the bill earlier this month after initially being passed by the House in March.
As the nation’s largest provider of trained Service Dogs to military veterans, K9s For Warriors acknowledges the bill being signed into law as an encouraging step in the fight against veteran suicide:
“We commend the White House for supporting this bill as a critical step in combatting veteran suicide, and we’re confident in the path ahead for Service Dogs ultimately becoming a covered VA benefit to veterans with PTSD,” said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s For Warriors. “In communicating with veterans and their healthcare providers, it’s more imperative than ever to embrace the lifesaving impact of a Service Dog and to raise awareness for this treatment option as a proven method for mitigating debilitating symptoms of PTSD and suicidal ideations.”
The law will require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to enact a five-year pilot program to provide dog training to eligible veterans diagnosed with PTSD. The law additionally will:
- Designate eligible veterans to receive dog training instruction from nongovernmental accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit Service Dog training organizations (i.e., K9s For Warriors)
- Allow eligible veterans to learn positive reinforcement training in skills that are unique to their own needs to help address or alleviate their PTSD symptoms
- Provide veterans participating in the program with the opportunity to adopt a dog that they actively assisted in their training, provided that the veteran and their health provider determine it to be in the best interest of the veteran.
“It’s incredibly heartening that the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act has been signed into law after so much overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress,” said Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.). “Many of our veterans who have put their lives on the line often come home with trauma that demands a menu of options for treatment. I’m pleased that service dogs will now provide therapy to our veterans.”
A 2021 VA study found that veterans with post-traumatic stress who were paired with Service Dogs showed less suicidal ideation and more symptom improvement compared to veterans paired with an emotional support dog. Given that roughly 20 veterans die by suicide each day, the finding underscores the notion that properly trained Service Dogs can be instrumental in battling this public health crisis.
K9s For Warriors has long advocated for veterans experiencing PTSD symptoms to be eligible to receive a Service Dog under their VA benefits. While the implementation of this new law fails to establish that universal benefit, the pilot program is an integral first step in this becoming reality. The law also will mark a critical step forward in connecting veterans with nonprofit organizations equipped to train Service Dogs in performing specific tasks that mitigate symptoms of military-related trauma. Additionally, the law will support organizations (such as K9s For Warriors) that primarily receive their Service Dogs from high-kill shelters, a distinction that effectively saves two lives with every pairing between veteran and Service Dog.