“This has been a five-year battle to try and convince the federal government that what we do every day is valuable and helps veterans,” Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s for Warriors, “They’re finally agreeing and we’re getting a big breakthrough here.”
In August, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill that was for veterans with mental illnesses. The effort took years before it finally became a reality when President Biden signed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act into law in a ceremony attended by a group of lawmakers.
The PAWS ACT authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a pilot program on dog training therapy that will provide help to veterans with mental illnesses. The pilot program is set to start on January 1, 2022, and must be carried out by at least five VA medical centers.
The facilities will partner with accredited service dog organizations to perform the training. The dogs will learn how to shield a veteran from an overwhelming crowd or wake them up if they’re having a nightmare, to name a few. At the end of the program, the veteran trainers may adopt their canine pupils.
This will be a five-year pilot program that has the possibility of extending if they see good results. After 5 years, the VA must report back to Congress about whether it should be extended or made permanent. If it does continue, lawmakers will consider expanding the program to include veterans with mental health conditions other than PTSD.
It is also said that the new law will:
- Designate eligible veterans to receive dog training instruction from nongovernmental accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit Service Dog training organizations (i.e., K9s For Warriors)
- Allow eligible veterans to learn positive reinforcement training in skills that are unique to their own needs to help address or alleviate their PTSD symptoms
- Provide veterans participating in the program with the opportunity to adopt a dog that they actively assisted in their training, provided that the veteran and their health provider determine it to be in the best interest of the veteran.
According to Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., “We know service dogs are a proven life-changing and life-saving form of therapy for our veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.”
John Tappen, a Navy veteran, was one of the firsts that completed the K9s for Warriors three-week program in April with his new companion, Henry. Tappen says Henry made his life worth living again.
“I needed help and I didn’t know where it would come from. I didn’t know what form it would be in. I never thought in a million years a service dog would be the answer,” Tappen told First Coast News.
According to Diamond, the CEO of K9 for Warriors, the waiting list for the program goes up until 2025.
As we all know, Service dogs have been proven to help a lot of people get through their day-to-day life and struggles. Not only do they help medically, but also emotionally. Most service dogs are highly trained to assist military veterans in achieving a better quality of life. Usually, veterans who utilize service dogs report lower levels of depression and anxiety, fewer hospitalizations, and a reduction in medical and psychiatric costs, among other benefits. That is why a lot of people will truly benefit from the passing of this act.
For more information on the program, visit their website https://k9sforwarriors.org/.
If you are a veteran or know someone who is, please share this PAWS Act article with them. It might save a life.