For the first time in American history, the US Department of Veteran Affairs will pay for service dogs for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The PAWS ACT, or “Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act,” will authorize the VA to create a pilot program on dog training therapy. It will provide dog training skills and service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses beginning January 1, 2022.
The act was signed into law on August 25 — and is sure to positively affect the lives of thousands of veterans across the country.
“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,” Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s for Warriors, said in a press release. “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.”
Navy veteran John Tappen completed the K9s for Warriors three-week training program in April with his new service dog, Henry. Tappen says Henry helped save his life in more ways than one.
“I needed help and I didn’t know where it would come from,” Tappen told First Coast News. “I didn’t know what form it would be in. I never thought in a million years a service dog would be the answer.”
In a 2017 study involving nearly 6,000 US veterans, 12.9 percent were diagnosed with PTSD. That makes for a large amount of the veteran population.
K9s for Warriors helps connect veterans with service dogs, many of whom are rescued from high-kill shelters and then trained to pursue service dog duties. To date, the organization has rescued more than 1,300 dogs.
One of the largest goals of the group is to combat the veteran suicide rate. With a trained companion, veterans with PTSD can see a decrease in depressive thoughts, feelings of isolation and stress.
“There are over 100,000 veterans who need a service dog because of their post-traumatic stress,” Diamond said. “Right now, K9s for Warriors can help a couple of hundred a year. What this will do is to take that little tiny hose pipe and turn into a whole avalanche of service dogs, eventually down the road, we’ll see that happen. Twenty-two veterans a day taking their lives every day by suicide. This is one of the best ways we can fight it.”