“I’m living now, I’m really living.”
That’s how Walter Parker describes life since he was paired with his service dog, Jackson, six years ago. In 1967, Walter deployed to Vietnam and returned home with physical and invisible wounds, including post-traumatic stress (PTS), that took a toll on not only him, but his family and loved ones.
For over 40 years, Walter was essentially homebound, unable to speak with people, and struggling with suicidal thoughts. Now, thanks to Jackson, he’s not only able to leave his house, but he attended last week’s State of the Union address as my guest. He told me that that’s not something he would’ve dreamed was possible just six years ago.
Jackson truly turned his life around. Jackson has helped Walter overcome nightmares, depression, anxiety, reduce the amount of medications he takes, and, ultimately, become an advocate for his fellow veterans.
Walter was not the only veteran to attend the State of the Union. Another Ohioan, Tony Rankins, was there as a guest of the President.
Tony also struggled with PTS, lost his home, and spent many years working to overcome drug addiction. Thankfully, Tony found new purpose by learning carpentry and construction, allowing him to find a job and rebuild lost connections with his family.
In today’s environment, there isn’t much that Congress can agree on, but taking care of the men and women who served our country, like Walter and Tony, is just the right thing to do. That was demonstrated when the House unanimously voted to pass my legislation, the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act.
Walter is a living example of why I introduced this bill. This legislation will ensure veterans’ access to unique treatment for mental health conditions such as PTS, and traumatic brain injury by creating a pilot program for veterans to learn the art and science of training a dog for service.
Clinical studies have shown that veterans who work with service dogs show fewer symptoms of PTS, a lower risk of substance abuse, and a lessened need for psychotropic drugs.
I’ve seen first-hand how these programs have prevented suicide, improved relationships, and given veterans a new lease on life. This legislation is not the end of the road, but it is an important step in the right direction to improve the quality of life for America’s heroes.
The State of the Union is an opportunity for Congress and the President to set priorities for the upcoming year, and I’m confident that caring for our veterans will remain at the forefront of many lawmakers’ minds.
I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure that those who have served our country get the care that they’ve earned.
If you’d like to learn more about the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, or other legislation impacting veterans, please call my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-2015, my Hilliard office at (614) 771-4968, my Lancaster office at (740) 654-2654, or my Wilmington office at (937) 283-7049.
Steve Stivers represents Ohio’s 15th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.