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House passes legislation to help connect Army Veterans to service dogs

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Posted at 2:05 PM, Feb 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-05 14:06:39-05

Army Veterans may soon have better access to train and adopt service dogs.

The U.S. House passed H.R. 4305 [congress.gov], the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act. The legislation requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to implement a 5-year pilot program that would assess the effectiveness of addressing post-deployment mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by allowing veterans with disabilities to train and adopt service dogs. The bipartisan bill was cosponsored by Congressman Higgins.

“This bill is an important acknowledgment to our veterans that we are aware of the mental health challenges they suffer from as a result of their service and fully support exploring every avenue possible for relief. This is yet another way to expresses our nation’s gratitude toward our veterans,” said Rep. Brian Higgins (N-26) upon passage of the bill.

In 2019, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published their annual National Veteran Suicide Prevention report [mentalhealth.va.gov] stating that 6,139 U.S. Veterans died from suicide in 2017, and that Veteran suicide has exceeded 6,000 deaths each year from 2008 to 2017. The suicide rate for Veterans was also 1.5 times higher than the rate for non-veteran adults. The pilot program created under H.R.4305 seeks to address this by issuing grants to non-government entities that are accredited in the training of therapy dogs and can provide service dogs to veterans with PTSD.

Veterans who wish to apply for this program must be recommended by a qualified health care provider and must agree to successfully complete training provided by the eligible organization.

The bill now moves to the Senate for a vote. If passed, the VA has 120 days to implement the program.