Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an issue that many veterans deal with. While not all have been diagnosed with it, many still experience it in day-to-day life. With so many suicides taking place every year because veterans aren’t getting the support that they need, there’s finally a bill that can make a difference.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has had a policy where they will not reimburse veterans for service dogs for purposes of combating PTSD.
That might change. There is a Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act (known as PAWS) that would require the VA to offer veterans $25,000 vouchers if they suffer from PTSD so that they can use it with qualifying nonprofits. The VA currently only provides service dogs for veterans who deal with mobility issues, not in cases involving mental health conditions.
Back in 2010, Congress mandated that the VA study the use of service dogs for PTSD as well as other mental health problems. Unfortunately, the pilot was suspended twice due to service dogs biting children as well as some dogs experiencing health issues. The VA has started the study again, the results won’t be published until 2020.
It has been estimated that approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day. A new bill authored by Republicans John Rutherford of Florida and Deb Fischer of Nebraska will address how service dogs can help reduce some of those tragic numbers.
Fischer has said that veterans who suffer from PTSD have left the battlefield but are still in a fight. She says that service dogs can offer peace, joy, and support as they deal with the “invisible scars of war.”
Grants provided to nonprofits would make it possible for them to expand their reach when it comes to training as well as connecting service dogs to veterans with any kind of mental illness. Many times, service dogs are provided by the nonprofits at no cost.
There is already a significant amount of bipartisan support for the act, featuring 37 cosponsors. Unfortunately, a similar bill was introduced three years ago but never made it out of committee.
K9 for Warriors’ CEO Rory Diamond would be affected by the legislation considerably and feels that the VA has taken too long to change a policy because there isn’t enough research regarding how dogs can help with PTSD. Diamond explains that the “genius of the dog” is that it helps to get the warrior out the front door. Veterans suddenly have a reason to get up in the morning when they own a dog because it needs to be fed and walked.
Service dogs have a way of making veterans feel more secure in crowds, too. Additionally, dogs can help veterans get a better night’s sleep because the dog will wake them at the first sign of a nightmare.
Studies from the National Institutes of Health and Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine have proven that service dogs do have a positive effect on veterans. This doesn’t mean that dogs will be able to cure veterans of their PTSD. However, it can improve their mental well-being to eliminate the likelihood of suicide.
Diamond says, “The dogs are working” and points to a growing body of research to show that the VA needs to provide vouchers.
Meanwhile, a VA spokesman via email said that the department does not take positions on any research done conducted by groups outside of their purview. The spokesman said that the VA conducts research using the “highest ethical and scientific standards.” It is anticipated that their first report will be released in early summer 2020 to identify whether service dogs or emotional support dogs have the ability to help veterans who suffer from PTSD. The VA has also avoided taking a position on the proposed PAWS Act as of yet.
Veterans who have chosen to spend the money on their own to get a support dog knows how it can help them. Additionally, the many nonprofits located around the country that train and match dogs with veterans know of the many benefits, regardless of whether a VA study proves it or not. Now, it’s a matter of waiting on the VA report and looking to see if enough bipartisan support can be achieved in order to get it out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote.
With fingers crossed, suicide rates may be on the decline thanks to the introduction of man’s best friend into the lives of more veterans.