By Jon King /

A bipartisan bill co-sponsored by 8th District Democrat Elissa Slotkin to help connect veterans with service dogs in their communities passed through the House of Representatives on Thursday.

The Paws, or Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act, was also co-sponsored by Ohio Republican Steve Stivers. Following the vote, Slotkin, Stivers, and several other House members from both parties, as well as veteran advocacy groups, held a press conference highlighting the legislation and calling on the Senate to take it up. Slotkin said, if signed into law, the bill could benefit organizations like Livingston County’s own Blue Star Service Dogs and Veteran Service Dogs.

The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act creates a pilot program within the Department of Veterans Affairs to give veterans access to treatment derived from working with service dogs. It would create work-therapy programs where veterans learn about how to train service dogs and upon completion of the program, the veterans have the option to adopt the dogs they trained.

With an average of 20 American veterans dying by suicide every day, and post-traumatic stress disorder impacting up to 30 percent of veterans who served, Slotkin said this legislation is long overdue.

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.

The bill had more than 300 co-sponsors, including 197 Republicans in the House of Representatives, and now heads to the Senate for consideration.