SANTA ROSA, CA – Long awaited legislation that will positively impact veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder was signed by President Biden. The Senate passed H.R. 1448, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act. The Act allows the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide service dogs and provisions for their care to assist veterans with PTSD. According to the VA Suicide Prevention Annual Report, nearly 18 servicemembers take their own lives each day as a result of these internal scars.
Canine Companions, the largest provider of service dogs, partnered with the VA to provide service dogs in a four-year study on the efficacy of trained service dogs for PTSD. Canine Companions placed a total of 59 service dogs and 40 emotional support dogs with study veterans, totaling 45% of all dogs placed through the study. The results were staggering – Veterans paired with service dogs showed less suicidal ideation and more improvement in mental health than those paired with emotional support dogs.
“The importance of the results of the study – and its impact on the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act – cannot be understated,” says Canine Companions CEO Paige Mazzoni. “Service dogs provide a significant therapeutic benefit for veterans with PTSD.”
The results of the previous study laid the groundwork for future legislation – like H.R. 1448 – to further assist veterans utilizing service dogs to mitigate symptoms of PTSD.
- Department of Defense now has the authority to use trained service dogs as a treatment option for veterans with PTSD – an option that was not previously available despite the profound results of the previous study.
- The Act will allow veterans with PTSD and other mental health diagnoses to be eligible for VA service dog veterinary insurance benefits, which also covers equipment and travel expenses associated with service dog ownership.
“As a founding member of Assistance Dogs International, we are pleased to see that all ADI-accredited organizations’ veteran clients living with PTSD will now have access to the same insurance benefits as veteran clients with physical wounds,” Mazzoni continues.
Although the VA has long provided health insurance support for service dogs for veterans with certain physical conditions, service dogs trained to mitigate symptoms of PTSD did not garner its support until now, with the exception of a handful of former VA study participants including U.S. Army Veteran Diana Windenberg.
“With Jag having to make a couple different trips to the University of Wisconsin for treatment, I would never been able to afford the bill,” says Windenberg, partnered with Canine Companions Service Dog Jag. “I would never be able to pay those expenses on my own without insurance.”
For servicemembers relying on a task-trained service dogs for PTSD, the H.R. 1448 is a giant leap towards supporting veterans and their service dogs in an equitable way. It might mean the difference between having a veteran who won’t be here tomorrow and having one that will.
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