Just a few days before the war in Afghanistan finally came to an end this week, President Biden signed into law the PAWS Act, aka the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act. The timing couldn’t be better.
The PAWS Act requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to launch a $10 million, five-year-long dog training therapy program to provide service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. Amazingly, this will be the first time in U.S. history that the VA has paid for providing these important service animals to veterans.
“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. K9s for Warriors is the country’s largest provider of trained service dogs to military veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury and/or military sexual trauma.
It’s a tragic statistic that about 20 veterans die by suicide every single day. Nearly 90,000 veterans died by suicide between 2005 and 2018.
Could service dogs help prevent this? Veterans with PTSD who had been paired with service dogs had less suicidal ideation and greater symptom improvement than veterans paired with emotional support dogs, according to a 2021 VA study.
“When I received a black lab named Deacon, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I felt like a weight was lifted off of me.” — Jamie, 2018 grad
“Deacon is my shadow. I’ve never felt so secure in my life.”#ServiceDog #Veteran #PTSD #K9 #K9FW #MentalHealth pic.twitter.com/ze49Rz6hgk
— K9s For Warriors (@k9sforwarriors) August 31, 2021
The dog training therapy program will begin on Jan. 1, 2022. Per the PAWS Act, the VA must provide the following:
- Eligible veterans will be able to receive dog training instruction from nongovernmental accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit service dog training organizations, such as K9s For Warriors.
- Those veterans will be taught positive reinforcement dog training for skills that help their PTSD symptoms.
- Best of all, when the training is completed, the veterans will have the opportunity to adopt the dogs they trained.
“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,” Diamond said.
Here’s hoping the pilot PAWS Act training program will be a huge success. From now on, the VA should provide service dogs free of charge to any veterans who need them.
Photo: K9s for Warriors