July 15, 2016

Kaine Announces Support For The PAWS Act

Legislation Would Provide Service Dogs and Veterinary Health Insurance to Veterans Suffering from PTSD

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, announced his support for new legislation to help veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The bill, known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members (PAWS) Act, would help veterans suffering from PTSD to access innovative treatment methods to improve their quality of life. The bill was originally introduced by Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

“We owe each and every veteran a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made on and off of the battlefield,” Kaine said. “Many come home with injuries that are unseen, such as PTSD which affects a significant percentage of veterans who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A service dog can provide loyalty and emotional support to help our veterans cope with the scars they return with. I’m proud to join this bipartisan effort.”  

PTSD is a serious problem for our nation’s veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD in a given year. Research indicates that PTSD is notoriously difficult to treat, and many veterans do not seek or continue treatment. 

Service dogs are thought to provide several identified benefits to people suffering from PTSD or other combat-related illnesses. Studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy for trauma may lead to a reduction in PTSD symptoms, as well as reduced depression, anxiety, and dissociation symptoms. This therapy can also lead to better sleep quality and a decreased need for medication. While the VA provides service dogs for physically disabled veterans, it does not provide service dogs for veterans living with PTSD. 

The PAWS Act directs the VA, through its Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, to implement a five-year pilot program to provide service dogs from certified providers as well as veterinary health insurance to those veterans who: (1) served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001; and (2) were diagnosed with, and continue to suffer from, PTSD. Veterans paired with dogs would receive follow-up support service from the certified service dog provider for the rest of the dog’s life.  

To remain eligible for the program, veterans must see a primary care or mental health care provider at least quarterly at a VA medical facility. The bill authorizes $10 million for each fiscal year from 2017 to 2022 to carry out the pilot program. Following completion of the pilot program, the Government Accountability Office would conduct a program evaluation and submit a report to Congress.  

The House version of the PAWS Act, H.R. 4764, was introduced by Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) in March 2016. The House bill currently has 97 bipartisan cosponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Click here to view text of the PAWS Act.