House passes bill to allow VA to fund service dogs for veterans with PTSD

The House passed a bill Wednesday that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to begin a project connecting service dogs and veterans.

The bill, if implemented, could be critical step to improve Veterans' mental health care.

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act, authored by Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversNational Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus Stronger patent rights would help promote US technological leadership Republicans to introduce House version of Scott police reform bill MORE (R-Ohio), would launch a program presenting federal grants to nonprofits providing service dogs to veterans suffering mental health issues. The VA would assess the effectiveness of dog therapy, according to a Stars and Stripes report.

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"Our veterans fought for our freedom, and I've heard from many veterans who say that's exactly what their service dog gives them – freedom." Stivers said. "They're free to go to restaurants, to fly on planes, to go to the movies, things that post-traumatic stress [disorder] had made impossible."

Lawmakers of the House and Senate Committees for Veterans' Affairs have prioritized veterans' suicide as a prime issue to address after years of legislative measures and efforts that haven't subdued the crisis, according to the report.

Some members veteran advocacy groups have expressed frustration with Congress' failure to make immediate progress on the issue, and have called for lawmakers to think outside the box.

Joe Chenelly, national executive director of American Veterans said, "When it comes to curbing suicide, the time to act is now...Every day matters and the status quo is untenable," Chenelly said in a statement last month.

According to the news outlet, the number of veterans that have taken their lives is staggering. Between 2005 and 2017, 78,875 veterans have taken their lives, according to recent data from the VA, compared to roughly 7,000 troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined in the past two decades. 

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Rep. Phil RoeDavid (Phil) Phillip RoeOvernight Defense: Trump plan to pull troops from Germany gets bipartisan pushback | Top GOP senator says it's time to look at changing Confederate-named bases | GOP divided over renaming Army bases US ill-prepared for coronavirus-fueled mental health crisis Tennessee lawmaker bought stocks in Zoom, sold cruise line shares before market plunge MORE (R-Tenn.), a ranking member of the House VA committee, is in full support of the bill, adding that the companionship of dogs can have "powerful healing."

"Mental wellness does not have a one-size-fits-all solution, which is why VA must provide innovative and out-of-the-box treatments to help veterans combat these invisible illnesses and thrive in their civilian lives," Roe said. 

There is no planned date for the Senate's vote on this bill at this time.