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house Bill H.R. 1448

Should the VA Fund a Dog Training Therapy Pilot Program for Wounded Vets?

Argument in favor

Studies conducted by the VA and medical researchers, along with anecdotal evidence, have shown that veterans with PTSD may benefit from having and training service dogs. This bill would help make service dogs accessible to more veterans, and would also help veterans develop a new marketable skill (training service dogs) that could benefit them in the workforce.

jimK's Opinion
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05/12/2021
Absolutely, the arguments against doing this are frivolous excuses by people who don’t want to be bothered with additional duties no matter how beneficial they may be. This kind of therapy has been used in nursing homes and has helped hardened criminals rehabilitate. There is nothing else that compares to the unconditional friendship that a well cared for dog can offer. A dog makes no judgements, recriminations and requires no explanations to assume the role of a loving companion. When they need comfort or to be fed they will let folks know, when they know you are feeling down they try to help. Trained service dogs, although retired, still know how to follow an owners direction. This is a win-win situation for the veteran as well as for the service dog.
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larubia's Opinion
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05/12/2021
Pets are healing and there is no one more deserving than our wounded warriors! I would love to be part of this!!!
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Freethinker's Opinion
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05/12/2021
Yes finally a common sense bill that is for the veterans, however more should be done and funding veterans should be more of a priority.
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Argument opposed

The VA already has a VA veterinary health benefit under which veterans with mobility limitations associated with mental health disorders can apply for VA support to train and care for a service dog. Rather than establishing a separate program to pair non-mobility-impaired veterans with service dogs, it would make more sense to expand this existing program to also cover veterans without mobility impairments and to pay for service dogs for all eligible veterans.

Robert 's Opinion
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05/12/2021
The VA already has a program for PTSD patients with mental disabilities. They are called service dogs. We only need to expand the definition as to who qualifies for these already trained service dogs. The part of this bill that immediately turned me to read it a little closer was that the 5 VA Centers chosen will not be in the best centers for training the animals but must be in a diverse community. Secondly the person that trains these dogs will be individuals that will after trained will be able to adopt them, Think back at any big city the homeless people standing on the corner with help me sign and lots of them have a stray dog sitting next to them. Let’s give them a trained dog that will help deal with their problems not require them to train them just to be there.
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Ronald's Opinion
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05/12/2021
This sounds ike a great idea, but We must not trust this Congress, or Our current, illegitimate P to do anything.
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Larry's Opinion
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05/12/2021
This is an issue for the VA and their medical experts and mental health professionals to take up. It should not be decided here. Politicians and voters should not micromanage stuff like this.
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What is House Bill H.R. 1448?

This bill — the PAWS for Veterans Act — would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to carry out a five-year pilot program on dog training therapy for wounded veterans with mental illnesses who don’t have mobility impairments. This pilot program would be carried out by at least five Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers located in geographically diverse areas. At the program’s completion, the veterans would have the option to adopt the dogs that they assisted in training if the veteran and the veteran’s health provider (in consultation with the entity that provided the canine training) determine that it would be in the veteran’s best interest to adopt the dog.

To carry out this pilot program, the VA Secretary would enter into agreements with nongovernmental entities that they have determined have the ability to provide the canine training specified in this legislation.

This bill’s full title is the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act.

Impact

Veterans; veterans with PTSD or other service-related conditions that might benefit from a service dog; veterans who want service dogs; service dog nonprofits; and the VA.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 1448

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthSponsoring Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) reintroduced this bill from the 116th Congress to pair veterans and service dogs to treat mental illnesses. In a press release, Rep. Stivers said:

“Men and women have made unbelievable sacrifices to keep our nation safe, and this bill is a common-sense solution to help them thrive, not just survive, in their transition to civilian life. I’m incredibly grateful to our coalition for their efforts to get this bill signed into law.  This has already helped veteran[s] nationwide, and soldiers under my command in Operation Iraqi Freedom go out to restaurants again, go on planes, and mend relationships with their loved ones. Now confirmed by the VA, this unique treatment has proven to help veterans get their lives back, get their freedom back.”

When he introduced this bill in the 116th Congress, Rep. Stivers said

“A soldier under my command during Operation Iraqi Freedom recently told me what his service dog means to him: he was able to fly on a plane for the first time in 10 years and he took his fiancée to dinner.  That is the impact this bill can have on the lives of our veterans. I’m incredibly grateful to our coalition for their efforts to create this program, and I look forward to getting this bill signed into law so that our veterans can receive the care they need.”

In a separate statement, Rep. Stivers argued that dog training will benefit veterans’ mental health in a number of ways

“The dog training will give these veterans a new mission and that's training a dog for service. And the skills they learn in that training are something that is clinically shown to reduce the incidents of depression, to improve interpersonal relationships, to lower the risk of substance abuse, and to lower the instance of suicide.”

Rep. Stivers noted that some veterans have told him that having a service dog has helped them reduce or even cease their medications: “If you can do it with a service dog and get off the drugs, great; if you still need the drugs, that's OK, too. But we've heard anecdotally a lot of people getting off the drugs as a result of these service dogs."

Original cosponsor Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), who also supported this bill in the 116th Congress, adds that the pandemic has exacerbated the need for this legislation:

“Service dogs are a proven and effective resource for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress. And with the ongoing pandemic only exacerbating the mental health crisis, we must ensure that our veterans have access to every available mental health resource – including service dogs. This bipartisan bill is common-sense legislation that will help save lives. I’m proud to support it and I thank Representative Stivers for leading this effort once again.”

Christopher Baity, founder and executive director of Virginia-based Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, expressed support for this bill in the previous session of Congress. He said, “This bill is essential to veterans who need psychiatric service dogs. It will ensure that the highest quality service dogs are being placed with those veterans by reputable organizations.”

Christine Myran, executive director of Blue Star Service Dogs, a nonprofit that has paired approximately 150 service dogs and veterans in Michigan, says that service dogs can be therapeutic tools to treat PTSD, and that the overall training is part of the process.

This legislation passed the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs by voice vote with the support of 313 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 195 Republicans and 118 Democrats, in the current session of Congress. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), has five bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including three Democrats and two Republicans, and has not yet received a committee vote.

In the previous session of Congress, this legislation had 324 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 189 Republicans and 135 Democrats, and passed the House by voice vote. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), had 14 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including eight Democrats and six Republicans, and did not receive a committee vote.


Of NoteIn February 2021, the VA released reports of a high-anticipated study pairing veterans with PTSD with service dogs. The VA study found that pairing veterans with service dogs, rather than emotional support dogs, resulted in fewer symptoms of PTSD and a reduced risk of suicide. This study and its results were reviewed by mental health providers, veterinarians, dog trainers, statisticians, and other research experts at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.


Research conducted by Kaiser Permanente and Purdue University has shown that working with service dogs alleviates the symptoms of PTSD, leading to better interpersonal relationships, lower risk of substance abuse, and overall better mental health. In the study, 141 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from PTSD were split into two groups, one of which received trained service dogs (75 veterans, the dog group) and the other of which was put on the waiting list to get a dog (66 veterans, the wait list group). 

At the end of the study, the dog group’s PTSD symptom scores dropped an average of 12 points while the PTSD scores of those on the waiting list hadn’t changed at all. The dog group also had numerous other indicia of improved mental health, including: 

  • Lower depression scores;
  • Better mental quality of life scores;
  • Greater satisfaction with life;
  • Higher levels of psychological well-being;
  • Better ability to cope with adversity;
  • Lower social isolation scores; and
  • Greater ability to get out and participate in social activities.

The VA has an existing veterinary health benefit that pays for veterans with substantial mobility limitations associated with a mental health disorder to train and care for a service dog. Under this program, the Mental Health Mobility Service Dog Initiative, the VA provides comprehensive coverage for the canine’s health and wellness and any prescription medications necessary to enable the dog to perform its duties in service to the veteran. However, this program has some notable limitations. Chief among these is the fact that it does not pay for the dog or for boarding, grooming, food, or other routine expenses associated with dog ownership.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Jason Hohnberger)

AKA

PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act

Official Title

To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program on dog training therapy, and to amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses who do not have mobility impairments.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on Veterans' Affairs
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Health
      Committee on Veterans' Affairs
    IntroducedMarch 1st, 2021
    Absolutely, the arguments against doing this are frivolous excuses by people who don’t want to be bothered with additional duties no matter how beneficial they may be. This kind of therapy has been used in nursing homes and has helped hardened criminals rehabilitate. There is nothing else that compares to the unconditional friendship that a well cared for dog can offer. A dog makes no judgements, recriminations and requires no explanations to assume the role of a loving companion. When they need comfort or to be fed they will let folks know, when they know you are feeling down they try to help. Trained service dogs, although retired, still know how to follow an owners direction. This is a win-win situation for the veteran as well as for the service dog.
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    Pets are healing and there is no one more deserving than our wounded warriors! I would love to be part of this!!!
    Like (23)
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    The VA should do everything they can to improve the lives of vets who have served this country putting their lives and their health on the line every single day they served, and suffer the consequences for their entire life
    Like (16)
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    This is such a good idea!
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    Yes finally a common sense bill that is for the veterans, however more should be done and funding veterans should be more of a priority.
    Like (11)
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    I am a Vietnam Combat Vet at 90% Disability and home bound. I have stage III Kidney Disease, Chronic Sinus Disease, Chronic Asthma, and AFIB relatable to Agent Orange Poisoning. I also HAVE Severe PTSD Moral Injury Disabling episodes. I am being treated by 5 specialists and my loving wife is my caretaker and CFO. My saving grace here in Hawaii is my wife's continuing care and a Highly Trained Therapy dog we trained to come to my aid when a PTSD Trauma trigger destabilizes my heart, breathing, and emotional stability. VA should have a direct assistance dog therapy program like this. I owe my life to VA Coordinated Care in Seattle VAHC. They got me stabilized ON MEDICATIONS and behavioral therapy about 7 years ago. I now live in Honolulu Hawaii where we are near to a daughter and am being serviced by VA Out-patient providers authorized under the Mission Act VA care Program. Before I became totally disabled, my wife and I AND OUR LOCAL MOAA Chapter helped fund a local charity partially funded by donations from Boeing that trained and gave therapy care dogs to severely disabled combat disabled veterans in need.
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    I believe anything that will help a veteran to recover from their tramatic experiences should be encouraged.
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    How can this not pass by voice vote in both houses? Bet they find a way👎.
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    This bill has my support. Trained service dogs can be a blessing for a Veteran with PTSD and other issues. The cost to the taxpayer is small compared to the payment by our Veterans to our Country.
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    Animal therapy is powerful, safe and effective—for minimal cost. There are many success stories about such programs helping both humans and canines. Our veterans need and deserve this help from an otherwise bare-bones VA support.
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    I support this and any other effort to improve the quality of life of all our wounded veterans.
    Like (6)
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    Yes, it is good for the veteran and the dog. Don’t stop with wounded vets, those with PTSD and other neurological issues could use them also. Sure would help animal shelter in finding homes for some of their residents.
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    Dear Representatives, We urge you to support HR 1448, PAWS* for Veterans Therapy Act, as amended. The PAWS program is a five-year pilot program on dog training therapy for wounded veterans with mental illnesses who do not have mobility issues. It would likely be best to keep this program separate from the program to provide canines to veterans with a mobility impairment. However, it might be worthwhile to explore combining the programs as a part of the pilot project. * Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers
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    Our veterans deserve more attention than they’ve been given. It’s good to see some legislation in their name.
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    Absolutely!
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    All up-side and no down-side--So, Yes--Do it.
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    We have seen the unlimited benefits & progress of trained animals to support people with Disabilities. Support Govt funding of these Programs esp for our Vets!
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    For sure they need that help plz help them.
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    That this is an issue and needs to be discussed and isn’t in place already proves how fucked up we are.
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    Support for our vets when they come home is just as important as support for our troops overseas. This is a nobrainer.
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