Washington, DC — Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL-06) today reintroduced the bipartisan Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act in order to expand access to service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

DeSantis is joined in this effort by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA-08) as well as Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).  

“We have asked our veterans to endure great sacrifice so that we may live in freedom; we must provide the best care possible to those bearing invisible wounds of war such as post-traumatic stress,” DeSantis said. “I have seen first-hand how specially-trained service dogs can mitigate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for veterans who have been failed by traditional therapies. The PAWS Act will allow the VA to utilize this specialized treatment in their fight against post-traumatic stress.”

DeSantis continued, “The epidemic of veteran suicides demands immediate action by Congress. Passing the PAWS Act will save veteran lives.”

“Veterans with PTSD may have left the battlefield, but they are still in a tough fight. Service dogs can provide support, peace, and joy to these Americans as they confront the invisible scars of war. Through the PAWS Act, we can bring our veterans relief by offering them hope,” said Fischer.

“As servicemembers return from repeat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is critical that we provide them with the resources they have earned to assist with the difficult transition to civilian life. From ensuring access to high quality, timely care at our V.A. hospitals to exploring innovative approaches to mental health resources, such as a service dog pilot program, we must examine every opportunity to improve the health and quality of life of our heroic veterans. I am honored to join Congressman DeSantis to introduce the PAWS Act, which could help save the life of a wounded warrior struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Lynch.

Booker said, “We owe a deep debt to veterans who have so bravely defended our liberties. Service dogs can be an effective approach to supporting veterans who are struggling with PTSD or other combat-related illnesses, just as they have shown to be effective for physically disabled veterans. Our bipartisan bill will enable the VA to provide grants for service dogs to provide comfort for our heroes and improved quality of life as they re-adapt to civilian life.”

The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute has funded an ongoing pilot study conducted by Dr. Marguerite O’Haire of Purdue University to evaluate the effect of K9s for Warriors service dogs on veterans with PTSD. Preliminary results have been predominantly positive, with veterans reporting improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety in conjunction with a decreased reliance on prescription drugs. 

Bill Summary

GRANTS — The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall carry out a 5-year pilot program under which the Secretary provides a $25,000 grant to an eligible organization to pair a veteran suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with a service dog. In addition to initial pairing costs, the grant shall cover: (1) a veterinary health insurance policy for the life of the dog, (2) service dog hardware, and (3) payment for travel expenses for the veteran to obtain the dog.

ELIGIBLE ORGANIZATIONS — In order to be eligible for a VA grant for a service dog pairing, the organization must either be an Assistance Dog International accredited organization that also meets specific criteria listed in the measure, or meet the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans Service Dog Agency Standards, which cater to the needs of veterans with PTSD.

ELIGIBLE VETERANS — In order to be eligible for participation in the pilot, the veteran must have completed traditional therapies for PTSD and remain symptomatic. A VA medical provider or clinical team must determine that the veteran is an appropriate candidate for the program, and the veteran shall see the VA medical provider at least every 6 months to remain eligible.

OFFSET — The pilot is capped at $10,000,000 for the 5-year period covering 2018-2023 and entirely offset with funds from the VA Office of Human Resources and Administration.

SUPPORTING ORGANIZATIONS — The American Legion, American Kennel Club, K9s for Warriors