Washington, DC – Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL-06) held a press conference today to introduce the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act. DeSantis was joined by original cosponsor Congressman Keith Rothfus (PA-12) as well as representatives from veteran service organizations and several service dog teams.
Inspired by the story of former Corporal Cole Thomas Lyle, USMC, and his service dog Kaya, DeSantis, a Naval Reserve Officer, has introduced the PAWS Act in order to expand access to service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress.
“Thousands of our post-9/11 veterans carry the invisible burden of post-traumatic stress, and there is an overwhelming need to expand the available treatment options,” DeSantis said. “The VA should use every tool at their disposal to support and treat our veterans, including the specialized care offered by service dogs.”
“The PAWS Act is a simple bill that could have a dramatic – and potentially life-saving – effect on the lives of many. As we face an epidemic of veteran suicides, we must make sure that all of our returning servicemembers are honored and taken care of, no matter the wounds they bear.”
- The PAWS Act creates a pilot program that pairs post-9/11 veterans with the most severe levels of post-traumatic stress with service dogs. Additionally, they must have completed an evidence-based treatment and remain significantly symptomatic by clinical standards.
- Qualified veterans may then be referred to an Assistance Dog International accredited organization or private provider for a service dog pairing. The VA will provide $27,000 per dog to the organization (as determined by the average costs to acquire and train a service dog).
- To maintain eligibility, including VA-provided veterinary health insurance for the service dog, the veteran must see a VA primary care doctor or mental health care provider at least quarterly.
- Finally, the PAWS Act tasks the Government Accountability Office with conducting a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.
- The PAWS Act authorizes $10 million for the program.