House bill would help veterans get service dogs

Veterans with severe post traumatic stress disorder could get a service dog with help from the government under a bill introduced Wednesday in the House.

The bill, dubbed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act, would create a five-year, $10 million pilot program to have the Department of Veterans Affairs help pair veterans suffering from PTSD with a service dog.

“The PAWS Act is a simple bill that could have a dramatic – and potentially life-saving – effect on the lives of many,” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) said in a written statement. “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 bill is meant to help post-9/11 veterans whose previous PTSD treatment hasn’t sufficed.

Under the bill, those veterans would be referred to an Assistance Dog International-accredited organization or private provider to be paired with a dog.

The VA would pay the organizations for the dogs, at no more than $27,000 per dog. The VA would also provide the veterans with veterinary health insurance for their dogs.

In turn, the veterans would have to see a VA physician or mental health care provider at least quarterly.

“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 bill is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Mike Bishop (Mich.), Bradley Byrne (Ala.), Renee Ellmers (N.C.), Bill Flores (Texas), Tom Rooney (Fla.), Keith Rothfus (Penn.), Matt Salmon (Ariz.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Richard Nugent (Fla.) and Randy Weber (Texas), and Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Hank Johnson (Ga.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).

— Updated at 3:46 p.m.

Tags Bill Flores Matt Salmon Randy Weber Tulsi Gabbard

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