Walter served in the Vietnam War. For decades, he was unable to leave his house most days.
Becca deployed to Iraq. When she returned, she spent seven years addicted to heroin.
Bill was under my command in Operation Iraqi Freedom. All he wanted was to be able to take his fiancé to dinner.
Unfortunately, the stories of these three soldiers are not unique.
As a Major General in the Ohio Army National Guard and the Representative for over 43,000 veterans in Ohio’s 15th District, I know that there are tens of thousands of veterans who struggle every day with the invisible wounds of service.
But these three soldiers are three of the lucky ones: Walter, Becca, and Bill, were paired with service dogs.
By working with Jackson, Bobbie, and Athena, they got their freedom back – they got their lives back.
To date, the only treatments recognized by the Veterans Administration (VA) for post-traumatic stress (PTS) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) are medication or talk therapy. But for many, medications and traditional therapy do not help veterans return to normalcy.
We owe it to our veterans to pursue creative options that make a real impact, including working with service dogs. Today, far too few of our nation’s veterans have had the opportunity to benefit from this type of therapy in the way that Walter, Becca, and Bill have.
Congress has the opportunity to change that. It’s time to pass the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act.
This bill would create a pilot program at the VA that will allow veterans to participate in work-therapy programs, where they would learn the art and science of training a dog for service.
Upon completion of the program, the veteran will have the opportunity to adopt their new canine partner to provide continued relief from the symptoms of PTS, TBI, and other mental illnesses.
We’ve seen the peer-reviewed evidence from institutions like Purdue University and Kaiser Permanente, and, more importantly, the anecdotal evidence from veterans; we know that service dogs work. And yet, for almost a decade, the VA refused to recognize it.
But finally, on February 5th, the VA released the preliminary results of its own study, confirming what we already knew: service dogs are an effective treatment for mental illness. There are no more reasons to delay.
This week, I reintroduced the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act with 220 bipartisan cosponsors, which is enough support to pass the bill if a vote were held today.
It passed the House unanimously last year, but as addressing the pandemic took priority, our veterans were placed on the backburner and it did not make it to the President’s desk.
Every day that we delay, we lose 22 veterans to suicide. That is unacceptable, it is time that Congress does everything in its power to rectify it.
It is time to pass PAWS.
Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) represents Ohio’s 15th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.